Jason Pryor shows me the thick calluses that have built up over the years on the inside of his pointer finger, from nail to knuckle. That index finger skillfully guides Pryor’s grip on the epee, his fencing weapon.

“I can strike matches on these things,” he says.

His calluses are testament to the many thousands of hours he’s spent fencing, which have paid off with an Olympic berth this summer in Rio de Janeiro. Pryor, 28, is ranked number one in the U.S. in men’s epee, and will be the only U.S. epee fencer competing in Rio.

That he’s come this far still amazes him.

“I don’t think I was even brave enough to admit to myself that I wanted to go to the Olympics,” says Pryor, who’s currently ranked 38th in the world. “That thought was such a fantasy. Such a fantasy of a fantasy.”

Pryor’s trajectory to the top of his sport is unlikely. He is short for a fencer: a little under 5-foot-9. He compensates for that with speed and unpredictable motion.

‘A Fantasy Of A Fantasy’: U.S. Fencer Jason Pryor On Reaching The Olympics

Photos: Adrienne Grunwald for NPR