Stevens Point’s Fencil finds a home in sports

Fencil turned from non-athlete to one of the world’s best
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 9:36 PM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - Stevens Point’s Alyssa Fencil was not an athlete in high school. She competed in Taekwondo but will also be the first to tell you that she wasn’t anything special on the mat.

That’s what made her career trajectory all the more unlikely.

“If you would’ve told me when I was in high school with taekwondo that I would’ve been on Team USA, I would’ve laughed in your face,” Fencil said.

That’s right. Fencil competed internationally years after her high school career ended. What made the situation even more unlikely, or maybe more possible, was when Fencil was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after high school.

“Being diagnosed in your early 20s is kind of a kick in the pants,” Fencil said. I tried to pretend it didn’t exist for a long time.”

As a mom, competing on a world stage wasn’t even a thought. She was still coaching taekwondo and was at an event when Team USA appraoched her. They wanted her to compete in para taekwondo.

After checking with the classifiers to ensure she was eligible, they confirmed and she was suddenly on the team. That moment kickstarted a career in which Fencil competed across the world. She reached a ranking of top five at one point.

“I was never the athlete. Now, all of a sudden in my 30s and 40s, I’m discovering that ‘yup,’ I can be an athlete and I can be competitive,” Fencil said.

Her taekwondo career was forced to end when it was ruled that those with MS would not be classified to compete in international para taekwondo. That’s when her second sport came into the picture—track and field.

“I get up to do my actual competition. I fling it, and if I would’ve been classified, I would’ve set a world record,” Fencil said.

She began to throw shotput and discuss at adaptive sports events, and her success carried from the mat to the throwing circle. Fencil was quickly one of the world’s best at both in her classification. Jacob Graboski, the founder and executive director of the Dairyland Games, an adaptive sports event in Madison, helped Fencil find track and field. He saw her excel immediately.

“She went from getting this one experience at Dairyland games. Something new, something exciting to try,” Graboski said. “And she literally took it to the top,” Graboski said.

Because of adaptive sports, Fencil is living out dreams she didn’t know she had.

“That was one of the things that taekwndo and doing that initial competition taught me,” Fencil said. “Is to accept it and it was there, so why not make it allow me to do things?”

Fencil limits her competitions to just a handful a year now, including Arizona’s desert challenge this weekend and the Dairyland Games in Madison next month. She wants to thank the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which helps provide grants for her to compete across the country.