By Tom Degun

US_athletes_qualify_for_London_2012August 18 - Five members of Team USA have become the first athletes from America to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

It is in the sport of wheelchair fencing after each won a gold medal at the 2011 Wheelchair Fencing Pan American Championships in Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The five athletes to qualify are Cat Bouwkamp in the category A foil, Ryan Estep in the category B epee, Mario Rodriguez in the category A foil, Gerard Moreno in the category B foil and Gary Van Der Wege in the category A epee.

The achievement was particularly special for Bouwkamp who is just 15-years-old and often finds herself as the youngest athlete in both domestic and international wheelchair events.

But she has nearly seven years' experience in the sport and the three-time World Cup medallist hopes that she will be a podium threat at the Paralympics next year despite her tender age.

"I was so excited to know that I will be going to London in 2012," she said.

"I couldn't stop smiling."

Estep, a former football player who was injured in a car accident during his senior year of high school, is a newcomer to the sport but now has the opportunity to compete for the US team on the biggest competitive stage in Paralympic sport.

"I was so overwhelmed," Estep said.

"When I scored the final touch, I just wanted to share the moment with my team because all our hard work had finally paid off."

Rodriguez, a veteran of the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, earned his third trip to the Paralympics with a gold medal win in category A foil and revealed the win truly sank in as he received the gold medal and heard the American national anthem.

"I never felt more proud to be an American and hear the Star Spangled Banner because I realised that they were playing it for me," Rodriguez said.

Moreno is also a Team USA veteran and the most experienced athlete on the London 2012 wheelchair fencing squad as he qualified for his fourth Paralympic Games by winning gold at the 2011 Wheelchair Fencing Pan American Championships.

Meanwhile Van Der Wege has qualified for his second US Paralympic Team, after having previously competed at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.

Only six London 2012 Paralympic qualifying spots were available at the 2011 Wheelchair Fencing Pan American Championships with Team USA qualifying for five of those during the two-day individual competition.

Each athlete will now have the opportunity to compete in two events at the London 2012 Games although additional qualifying spots in the sport are still open for qualification at the wheelchair World Championships in October and through the world rankings List.

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