Camille Chai competes with the best in her discipline. At 28 years old, she’s already reached the top-16 in global epée fencing rankings—and can now officially dream of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“The Olympics are far from the last challenge I want to face; I like challenges, getting past my own perceived limits. I like to surprise myself, see what I can do. I’m constantly evolving and adapting to life with one arm and one leg,” Chai comments.
What’s critical to note, is that Camille Chai has only been wheelchair fencing for an impressive, and scant, two years! “It’s true that it’s a bit surprising, and I’m definitely not what you’d call a typical case’,” admits the skilled athlete who, in addition to training, is also a motivational speaker at conferences, in schools and in businesses.
A promising student…
The Laval, Quebec native was already acquainted with the fencing roughly a decade ago. While she was riding her adapted bike in her neighbourhood at the time, she met Maître d’armes Henri Sassine, who had trained several Quebec fencers all the way to the Olympic Games. “He approached me because he wanted to train an athlete for the Paralypmic Games—its because of him that I discovered fencing, and then, ten years later decided to give it another shot,” explains Chai.
Full of energy, Chai is practically powered by challenge—and fencing provides them in spades. “I like the sport’s aesthetics, that’s what got me interested. I was used to struggle and in my daily life, and I got to channel that energy in my sport.”
Accomplished Paralympian Pierre Mainville took her under his wing some two years ago. “He was my first contact within the National Team. Even today, he still takes the time to watch my bouts and give me advice. He’s truly my mentor.”
Interested spectators and budding athletes alike can catch Mainville and Chai in action at the Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard, on April 27 to 29, during the return of the Wheelchair Fencing World Cup at the Défi sportif AlterGo.
Camille Chai will be participating in her first-ever Défi sportif AlterGo, and it represents a unique opportunity to compete in an international event on home turf. “It’s a privilege as well as a source of pride. I’m thrilled that it’s happening here at home, and that my family and friends can come and watch; I’m also excited to welcome fencers from other countries.”
The role of Défi sportif AlterGo athlete-ambassador fits Chai well: “I may be new to this big family of athletes, but it doesn’t feel strange or foreign to me. I’m really happy about it, and honoured to be considered a model of believing in your dreams. I’m very lucky to be able to spread that message.”
A philosophy for sport, and for the sport of life
“En garde, prêt, allez!” These elegant words are what Camille Chai hears at the beginning of each fencing duel. Once heard, she knows she must be ready to cross swords and make every move count.
“You need to know what to do, to be ready to make a decision when they say allez, or else it won’t be you that gets the first point,” Chai reasons.
The philosophy of readiness is what has helped Chai, who was born without a left arm nor leg, to adapt to life as well as excel in sport. “Wheelchair fencing has helped me face life with a good attitude: it’s up to me to make choices for what I want. It’s a question of my attitude, and my will to move forward.”
Attitude and will are two things that Chai finds she needs to use a lot in daily life: from preparing vegetables to taking groceries home. “It happens a lot, actually. I face a situation where I just say to myself, Ok, go! I have to do something, come what may!”
Perhaps the last word about sport and life is best left to Chai, as formidable athlete: “In fencing, when you have an idea you have to follow it through to its end, you have to commit to it.” The words of a true champion!