Terry Hayes has let her determination in the face of a degenerative brain disorder inspire her all the way to the Tokyo Paralympics.

Sports have always played a major role in Hayes’s life, even before she became involved in Paralympic wheelchair fencing. During her childhood, she play-acted competing in the Olympics with her sister in the family backyard and eventually she turned those ambitions into a spot on the Old Dominion University varsity lacrosse team.

Hayes, who identifies as lesbian, also competed in speed walking, joined a softball team, and even completed a marathon.

After being diagnosed with Primary Cerebellar Degeneration in 2012, Hayes refused to let her condition end her athletic ambitions.

“This is not acceptable, this is not acceptable,” she said to WVEC-TV News about her reaction to her diagnosis, “I won’t live my life like this. Thought ‘I gotta get out of the house.’ Went and found a Women in Sports camp and haven’t looked back.”

With Hayes traveling to Tokyo to compete on the world stage, that certainly qualifies as an understatement.

She has already put together an impressive career resumé, including a bronze medal in wheelchair epee at the 2018 North American Cup, as well as fifth-place finishes in wheelchair foil and saber at the USA Fencing National Championships.

A proud LGBTQ athlete and a retired early childhood special education teacher, Hayes credits her wife Freda with providing the support she needed to successfully pursue her dream.

“We’ve been together for 22 years. We met at a church in Norfolk,” she said. “We do everything together. I couldn’t ask for a better wife. I just couldn’t.”

Indeed, their relationship led to a once-in-a-lifetime highlight when Freda’s essay about Terry’s work with special needs children led to her being selected to carry the Olympic torch at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Hayes has named being selected to the USA Paralympic Wheelchair Fencing team as her favorite athletic memory. She listed off a series of reactions upon hearing the news: “Amazing, unreal, exciting, nervous, everything all in one big bundle all the time.”

Hopefully, she’ll be able to make more amazing and unreal memories in Tokyo.