Model business student in Harrogate aiming for the Paralympics

Emily Holder, wheelchair fencer and student at Harrogate College, in action.

The Harrogate College student may only be 17, but she’s already close to the pinnacle 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 goals firmly set on breaking into the Paralympic team. and winning a medal.

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Paralympian Emily Holder outside Harrogate College, where she is studying a BTEC Extended National Diploma in Business.

She also flew high in her BTEC Level 3 Extended National Diploma in Business – despite facing pandemic-related interruptions and a recovery period after surgery – which she will complete this year .

Juggling the two workloads has been far from easy, especially when she has to travel to Milton Keynes regularly for her main training sessions, but it’s a challenge she relishes.

She said: “This course was a good choice for me and as far as the flexibility of the college to allow me to continue my fencing and training, it’s really great.

“The staff was very helpful and understanding. Although we didn’t do too much, due to Covid, when I had to take time off to attend fencing practices and competitions they were really good on the understanding that I have to just make sure i get the job done. Which, to be fair, I always do!

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

Emily has cerebral palsy and the level of her mobility varies depending on the intensity of the chronic pain she experiences and her levels of spasticity (muscle twitching) and dystonia (involuntary muscle twitching). She often uses a crutch but can do without on good days, 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 UK women’s team receives virtually no financial support.

His fencing equipment – ​​including two different blades, foil and epee, mask, gloves and more – is also expensive, so his participation required a significant investment of money and time from his family.

The dedication she showed to both her studies and to fencing led Harrogate College tutors to hail her as a “fantastic role model”.

Course leader David Gaunt added: “Emily is very conscientious and always puts her grades first.”

His love of business was inspired by the example of his father, who proved to be very helpful when it came to polishing his courses.

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

“I have always been aware that I had to invest myself in both things, my fencing and my studies. Some of my teammates, the Paralympians, only fencing but they always told me ‘don’t rely on that, 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 years old, after attending a disabled sports festival and deciding to pursue swimming and fencing. .

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

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

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

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

As for her studies, she aims to take a business management or human resources course at university later this year, and has already had three offers. She also gained valuable experience working at Portakabin’s York base.

Anyone wishing to support Emily’s fencing by sponsoring her can do so by emailing [email protected]

For more information on wheelchair fencing, visit

Details of courses at Harrogate College can be found at


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