One year on: Wheelchair fencing star Bebe Vio

One year on from her appearance as a Torchbearer at London 2012, Beatrice Vio is wheelchair fencing’s up-and-coming star. 31 Aug 2013
Beatrice Vio

Italy's Beatrice Vio has been named to the IPC's Ones to Watch list for the road to Rio 2016.

ⒸAgosoto Bizzi
By Mike Stuart | For the IPC

“Bebe told us ‘I am proud to be a disabled girl and a disabled athlete. My place is at the Paralympics.’”

Given her outstanding performances at some of this year’s major wheelchair fencing competitions, it’s difficult to believe that just a year ago Beatrice “Bebe” Vio was not yet part of the senior Italian squad.

“When I first started in wheelchair fencing competitions I had begun to dream of participating in the Paralympics in London as an athlete,” Vio said.

“But that summer the national coach Giovannini spoke with my dad and explained that, in his opinion, it was too early.”

However, such is Vio’s determination, that didn’t stop her making an appearance at London 2012.

Vio approached the disappointment with the same fighting spirit that had helped her overcome severe meningitis, and the resulting amputation of her arms and legs, four years earlier.

“I started to think about how I could go to London anyway,” she said.

Soaking up the experience

Vio went on to win an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) competition which gave future athletes the chance to be a Torchbearer at London 2012. Accepting the prize meant withdrawing from a role as torchbearer at the Olympic Games – already arranged as part of a sponsorship deal.

According to Vio’s father, Ruggero, it was an easy decision for the aspiring Paralympian:

“Bebe told us ‘I am proud to be a disabled girl and a disabled athlete. My place is at the Paralympics.’”

In London, Vio was able to spend time with future teammates and Italian Paralympic icons such as handcyclist Alex Zanardi and 100m T42 sprint champion Martina Caironi.

This served as a huge inspiration for the teenager, kick-starting a run of performances that would see her become a vital member of the Italian team.

In spring 2013 she cemented her place as the up-and-coming star of the sport by winning back-to-back IWAS Wheelchair Fencing Grand Prix events.

Balancing her success

The speed with which Vio rose through the ranks surprised even her father, though he was always confident she would succeed.

“We knew she would do well right from the start,” he said. “Maybe we didn't expect victories in the Grand Prix events so soon, but we knew that they would arrive.”

With this success has come a maturing in Vio’s approach to competing. As an elite athlete the amount of travel is much greater than before and the training has intensified. But she insists there is still time to have fun.

“We train a lot but we make a lot of jokes and laughter,” said Vio, who admits she is often teased for being the youngest member of the team.

“I am really proud to be part of this wonderful group.”

Over the past year, Vio has had to balance her increased wheelchair fencing commitments with full time school, participating in a scout group and supporting the foundation her parents set up to help children with amputations get involved in sport.

The teenager’s success has also brought achievements away from sport, and she is keen to use her new-found international profile to make a difference.

Just recently she visited the European Parliament in Brussels, where she met the Parliament’s President Martin Schulz and gave a speech on the importance of sport for young people with an impairment.

While the last year has been whirlwind for Vio, her father confirmed it has not overwhelmed her.

“The important thing is that she still faces all situations with serenity and a smile on her face,” he said. “It’s not for nothing. Her motto is ‘life is cool.’”