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Hometown Hopefuls: Utah’s Shelby Jensen on how her home state has supported her paralympic journey

Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.

The first time 22-year-old parafencer Shelby Jensen tried wheelchair fencing, it was like love at first sight. “I joke with people, saying I like to hit people with swords and not get yelled at,” Jensen said. But the reality goes much deeper. “Something in me just clicked.”

Jensen was always an active kid, but at seven years old – after suffering a stroke that paralyzed the right side of her body – she had to learn how to play sports in a whole new way. “After I got out of the hospital, my parents put me into all kinds of sports, just to be around people like myself.” Jensen was a natural athlete and tried everything from wheelchair rugby to wheelchair tennis.

When she was 15, Jensen was volunteering at a wheelchair sports camp and gave wheelchair fencing a go. “I sat down and tried it, and absolutely fell in love with it.” Four years later, Jensen was off to Tokyo, competing at her first Paralympics with Team USA.

“It was electrifying,” Jensen said, describing what it was like to emerge through the tunnel in the Opening Ceremony and chant, “USA!”

As Jensen looks ahead toward the Games in Paris next year, she hopes to not only represent her country, but her home state of Utah, too. “In Utah, there’s snow sports, there’s summer sports, and there’s multiple adaptive organizations, which I fortunately got to be a part of.”

Jensen was born and raised in Salt Lake City. She credits the Utah Fencing Foundation – a nonprofit with a devoted parafencing program that offers coaching, provides equipment, and hosts demonstrations – with supporting her throughout her parafencing journey. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

Finding parafencing as a high-schooler was particularly helpful for Jensen because it empowered her to overcome bullying, which she said was one of the biggest challenges she has faced. “I just really persevered through that and showed what I can do and what I’m capable of, and didn’t let their words bring me down.”

Although Jensen now lives and trains in Colorado Springs, she still has a lot of family in Utah. She said that her parents have talked about throwing a watch party for everyone during the Paralympics next year. “Being a part of the Utah Olympic and Paralympic community makes it that much more special,” Jensen said. “I know athletes going to Paris, and I want to be there right beside them and show that Utah is here.”

Jensen has also found community within the larger parafencing world. “I’ve made tons of friends. We have this saying: Mask down, they’re your enemy. Mask up, they’re your best friend.” In fencing, there are individual competitions as well as team competitions, in which teams of four fence against one another. The team aspect of wheelchair fencing is another thing Jensen loves about the sport, calling the chance to do both “the best of both worlds.”

In both versions of parafencing – and in life itself – Jensen sticks to the same personal motto. “I know this is cliche for me to say, but my personal motto is never give up,” she said. “I never gave up, and I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”