Pirate of the Caribbean

Paralyzed on one side and basically breathing with one lung, Jason Draper is a fencing hero

Jason's diminished lung capacity and surgery have saddled him with an almost inaudible voice that barely registers a hoarse whisper. "I liked it because in fencing you get to hit people," Jason grins, with his mom squatting by his side.

Mar and Timacheff began training Jason to increase his upper body strength: "With able-bodied fencing you can rest your arm, bounce away from your opponent," demonstrates Mar, "but not with wheelchair fencing. In a way it's harder."

Adds the curly-haired Timacheff: "[Jason is] a C-level fencer fencing A-level guys because there are not enough people out there, and he's giving them a hard time. He's coming close enough to being a world-level competitor. Give him a few more years."

Jason Draper (center) and  his three younger siblings
Patrick Bleck
Jason Draper (center) and his three younger siblings
Jason was the only teenage wheelchair fencer competing at the nationals
Patrick Bleck
Jason was the only teenage wheelchair fencer competing at the nationals

Jason's family is supportive. They made Miami their summer vacation destination so he could compete in the nationals. This past Saturday he took on 50-year-old Curtis Lovejoy, a four-time Paralympic medalist, who has won more than 40 golds in wheelchair fencing competition. Lovejoy dominated the first minute, but Jason stayed close, amassing eight points to his opponent's fourteen.

With 1 minute 55 seconds left, Jason scored a point. The numbers on the scoreboard changed, and the two stopped for a moment. The referee glanced over his left shoulder at Jason, then at Lovejoy, and boomed, "En garde!" The two crossed swords, and a tinny clang echoed through the crowded hall.

"Ready?" continued the ref. "Fence!"

Jason nestled his right hand on the rim of the wheel for balance and support as Lovejoy thrust forward. Jason blocked it. Lovejoy lunged again, but this time the teenager lacked the swiftness and agility to defend. As the sword tip bent into the young man's white jacket, the scoreboard recorded a win for the veteran: fifteen to eight.

As the victorious Lovejoy removed his mask, Jason extended a hand.

The seasoned fencer has inched closer to a spot on the Paralympics squad. "I don't really know who will make it," he democratically whispered after the fight. "They are all good and they all deserve to go."

Jason's future depends on the progression of his illness. His father says doctors have warned that the boy's condition could worsen. "Things could plateau when he stops growing," Bleck shrugs, "but at this point we just don't know."

With that, the scruffy-haired youth rolls out of the fencing area and heads off to the medal ceremony, family in tow, -- baby brother hitching a ride on the back of his big brother's wheels. The tumor on his spine began affecting his nervous system. Things got harder as he got older.

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