When the final wheelchair fencing World Cup of the season gets underway in Pisa, Italy, on Friday (11 November), the focus will be firmly on home crowd favourite Bebe Vio.
The attention is unlikely to trouble the 19-year-old Italian, who has rarely been out of the limelight since winning foil category B gold at Rio 2016, enjoying a host of star-studded engagements culminating with a State Dinner at the White House with US President Barack Obama.
“All the events have been interesting,” Vio said. “It started with the return of the Italian flag to Sergio Mattarella, the President of the Italian Republic after Rio, then there was a meeting with the Pope at the Conference ‘Sport at the service of the Humanity’ in the Vatican City.
“The most ‘fashionable’ event has been the Dior Fashion Show in Paris where I met Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence, Chiara Ferragni and a lot of other famous people. And then of course the last one, the dinner at the White House.”
But even with all these incredible experiences, the moment she secured gold at the first attempt will take some beating for Vio.
“When I think back [to winning gold] I’m still very excited, sometimes I’m not able to believe it,” Vio said.
“For an athlete, the Paralympic Games represent one of the most ambitious stages and to be there representing Italy was an incredible and unforgettable experience.”
Vio is part of a strong Italian squad that will be backed by the home crowd when the action gets underway in Pisa. Though it was in the individual foil event that Vio topped the podium in Rio, she stands by claims that the bronze won in the equivalent team event with teammates Andreea Mogos and Loredana Triglia was even more special.
“That’s because the team is very important,” Vio explained. “You are nothing without a team that helps and supports you. In every part of my life the team is a fundamental element: I’m talking about family, friends, school, my work with the art4sport organisation and also fencing. I love my friends Andreea and Loredana, it has been amazing to win the bronze medal with them.”
The team spirit that helped the Italians secure bronze in Rio was clear for all to see. They are tight-knit even away from the piste, and Vio stayed with some of her teammates in Brazil after the Games to celebrate their achievements.
“After the Paralympics, Andreea and me, together with [Italian men’s fencer] Matteo Betti, spent a week visiting Rio and its surroundings. Brazil is a very beautiful country, it was such a wonderful and relaxing week.”
After a short break Vio will hope to continue her winning ways in Pisa. But having already achieved her dreams of Paralympic success, will Vio be looking to take it easy in the coming competition?
“Absolutely not,” she said. “The secret is to put yourself on the line, to aim always higher and never give up.”
The International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) World Cup in Pisa runs 11-13 November 2016. More information can be found on the IWAS website and event website.