Just 10 days after making parafencing history, Amber Briar (BSc ’23) marked another major milestone when she crossed the stage during Brock’s 113th Convocation.
Briar graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology on Wednesday, June 14.
Earlier this month, she won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze during the inaugural wheelchair competition events at the Ontario Fencing Association’s Youth and Parafencing Provincial Championships.
Briar, who was named to the Canadian Parafencing Team last fall, has also won medals for Canada at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS)’s World Championship events.
Access and training in the sport aren’t easy to find, but Briar received advice, connections and equipment assistance from Badgers fencing head coach Tim Stang.
“Coming to Brock was the best decision I could have ever made. I recognize how lucky I am to have gone here. Tim and the fencing team are amazing. He’s gone above and beyond to help me and my pursuit in wheelchair fencing,” Briar said. “He didn’t have to, but that’s just the kind of person he is. He wants you to succeed and fosters a positive environment. I feel like that is what embodies Brock.”
A Paralympic sport since the first Games in Rome in 1960, athletes who use wheelchairs are eligible to compete in wheelchair fencing. According to the Canadian Paralympic Committee, these athletes generally include those who have had a spinal cord injury or lower leg amputation and those who have cerebral palsy (CP) or other physical disabilities that require the use of a wheelchair.
“I have cerebral palsy. I don’t use a wheelchair in everyday life, but I do when I compete para,” Briar said. “It’s still possible for me to compete in able-body events, which is a privilege that I recognize.”
There are three mobility classifications — A, B and C — in the sport of parafencing. Briar qualifies for Class A.
“There’s different classes just depending on how your body moves,” said Briar, whose CP impairs her dexterity during competition. “It makes the competition more equitable, because obviously having a disability is so different and with all the same disabilities as there’s various levels of it. It makes it as fair as possible.”
On a regular piste or strip, fencers can move anywhere forward and backward, however wheelchair fencing consists of specialty made chairs which are set at a fixed distance. Although athletes are free to move their upper body to avoid strikes, the wheelchair has limited movement.
Briar said competing wheelchair has had a cross-train effect on her skill.
“My blade work has evolved, and I think my style of fencing has changed for the better because of it,” said Briar, a foilist. “Wheelchair is quite a bit faster and takes a different strategy. I’ve been fencing for so long and yet there’s still so many elements to learn, so I’m still growing.”
Briar was born in Mississauga and comes from a fencing family. Her brother, Josh Briar, was on the cadet national team and competes for the University of Ottawa. Her twin sister, Tara Briar, fences for the University of Guelph.
David Briar, her father, is well established in the fencing world. He competes, coaches and serves as a referee in the sport, which he picked on a whim because he got bored waiting for his kids at the fencing club.
It was a game changer for the Briars when they discovered wheelchair fencing during a camp when Amber was 14 years old.
“I still remember how excited Amber got when she found out this sport was out there,” David said. “Her representing Canada was a proud moment for us. Amber and her twin sister Tara were born prematurely, and each have their own issues, so they’ve always faced a struggle. The proud moment for me has been watching their resilience. It’s never stopped them from reaching their goals.”