Fencing star and BTEC student Emily hails ‘brilliant year’

Budding Paralympian, Emily Holder, is celebrating a ‘brilliant year’ that has seen her add to her medal collection while excelling in her studies.

Emily, who has just passed her Level 3 BTEC National Extended Diploma in Business at Harrogate College with flying colours (she achieved three distinction stars), is one of the country’s top para fencers.

Her ultimate sporting ambition is to represent her country at the Paralympics. Emily took another stride towards that goal in July when she competed, for the first time, with the GBR women’s team at the Warsaw Para World Cup.

Achievements and medals

That event was one of many highlights in a year that has seen her fence in several top level competitions, win three medals – including her first international medal – and achieve an offer from her favoured university.

Emily was particularly pleased with her performance at the IWAS World Cup in Pataya, Thailand, in June, where she was ranked 18th and 21st in her two respective weapons.

She said: “My biggest achievement this year is probably making the direct elimination rounds, multiple times, when I was in Thailand and Warsaw at just my second and third world cups. Many people don’t reach this stage until they’ve competed in many world cups.”

In Warsaw, Emily competed in both individual events and as part of a team with two legends of the sport – Justine Moore and Gemma Collis. Justine is a World Cup medallist and Paralympian, while Gemma is a World Cup winner, medallist and three-time Paralympian.

Her medal haul (one silver and three bronze), meanwhile, came at the British Senior Championships at EIS Sheffield, in June, and then the Commonwealth Fencing Championships, in August.

Pushing ahead in sport and education

She said: “My 2022 so far has been brilliant. In fencing I have competed well and had the best time learning from my teammates, as well as competitors.

“I have also received five university offers and achieved a distinction in my BTEC exam, plus distinctions for all of my coursework.

“My long term goal of  representing GBR at my first Paralympics is going well. I am getting stronger and improving on every element of my fencing. This is showing in training, as well as in competition.

“I still have a long way to go, but I’m looking forward to continuing my journey of improvement whilst I’m at the University of York, studying a BA in Business Management.”

Emily has credited Harrogate College and her tutors for helping her to successfully balance the demands of her sport and her studies.

The college recently nominated her for a Living Our Values award, for ‘overcoming many challenges to achieve high grades in her course’ whilst also competing.

A North Rigton resident, she started fencing with Harrogate Fencing Club but now does most of her training at Milton Keynes Touche Fencing Club.

Click here to find out more about courses at Harrogate College.

Role model business student aiming for the Paralympics

Aspiring Paralympian Emily Holder is aiming for two ‘gold medals’– in fencing and in business.

The Harrogate College student may  only be 17 but she is already near the very top tier of wheelchair fencing, with National Championship medals – among others – for England to her name.

Emily, who made her debut for Great Britain last November at the IWAS wheelchair fencing World Cup in Pisa, Italy, now has her sporting sights firmly fixed on breaking into the Paralympic team and winning a medal.

She has also been flying high in her Level 3 BTEC National Extended Diploma in Business – despite having to contend with pandemic-related interruptions and a recovery period following surgery – which she will complete this year.

The challenges of chasing ‘two careers’

Juggling the two workloads has been far from easy, especially when having to travel to Milton Keynes regularly for her key training sessions, but it is a challenge she is enjoying.

She said: “This course has been a good choice for me and in terms of the college being flexible to let me continue my fencing and training, it’s been really great.

“The staff have been very helpful and understanding. Although we haven’t been going to too many things, because of covid, when it has come to me having to take time to attend training and fencing competitions they’ve been really good, on the understanding that I just need to make sure I get the work done. Which, to be fair, I always do!

“I also use a little bit of sport psychology, in terms of setting goals and deadlines, envisioning positive outcomes and that sort of thing, to help with my studies.”

Emily has cerebral palsy and the level of her mobility varies depending on how much chronic pain she’s experiencing and her spasticity (muscle tightness) and dystonic (involuntary muscle contraction) levels. She often uses a crutch but on good days can manage without it, and also has an electric wheelchair.

For her fencing she uses a specialist sports wheelchair which costs £4,000, and which the athletes have to pay for themselves, as the female GB team receives virtually no funding support. 

Her fencing gear – including two different blades, a foil and an épée, a mask, gloves and more – is also expensive so her participation has required a major investment in money, and time, from her family.

A ‘fantastic role model’ – Harrogate College Business student Emily Holder

A model student – and an inspirational dad

The dedication she has shown to both her studies and fencing has led tutors at Harrogate College to hail her as a ‘fantastic role model’. Course leader David Gaunt added: “Emily is very conscientious and always prioritises her grades.”

Her love of business was inspired by the example of her father, who has proven to be very useful when it comes to her fine-tuning her coursework.

She said: “He’s been a great help as I can run things by him to see if they make sense in the real world too, because theory’s often very different from practice.

“I’ve always been aware that I need to commit myself to both things, my fencing and my studies. Some of my teammates, the Paralympians, only fence but they’ve always said to me ‘don’t just rely on it, you have to try to have two careers rather than one’.”

Emily’s interest in competitive sport began in 2013, when she was just nine, after attending a disability sports festival and deciding to pursue swimming and fencing.

She eventually chose to focus on fencing as that would give her a better chance of one day becoming a Paralympian.

Focused on competing at the highest level

She said: “Fencing is a really niche sport anyway, and when you add disability to the mix it’s tiny. There are only four competitive female GB wheelchair fencers in the entire country!

“Paris, in 2024, may be my first chance to compete in the Paralympics in a team event, but LA in 2028 is maybe a bit of a more realistic goal.”

Emily, who lives in North Rigton, started off at Harrogate Fencing Club but now does the majority of her training in Milton Keynes while also using online coaching plus facilities at Durham, York and Bath.

As for her studies, she is aiming to take up a Business Management or Human Resources course at university later this year, and has already had three offers. She has also been gaining some valuable work experience at Portakabin’s York base.

Anyone who would like to support Emily’s fencing by sponsoring her can do so by sending an e-mail to emilyholder43@yahoo.com.

For more information about wheelchair fencing visit britishdisabilityfencing.co.uk/.