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Zion Clark was born without legs, as a result of a rare condition known as caudal regression syndrome, but if stature can be measured by heart, then this athlete from Columbus, OH, is a giant among men.
Proving that “possibility is a question of perspective,” Clark has helped to redefine notions around physically challenged people’s place in society, thanks to important work such as his “Zion Unmatched” photo essay written by New York Times best-selling journalist James S. Hirsch and, of course, he captured millions of hearts across the globe with his Emmy-nominated short film “Zion” with his “No Excuses” attitude toward life.
From humble beginnings as a troubled kid growing up through foster care, to tearing down stereotypes as a wrestler, to breaking world records and chasing new dreams, this extraordinary gentleman made time with M&F for an exclusive chat about his current quests to break new boundaries still, both inside and outside of sports.
You smashed the record for 20 meters walking on your hands in 4.78 seconds and you did this in your former high school gym in Massillon, OH. What was your training like ahead of this Guinness Book of World Records accomplishment?
The training was definitely brutal. A lot of hard work, a lot of extra time on the treadmill. A lot of time just running. I was going on 4-, 5-, and 6-mile runs on my hands to get my body ready. When it came down to it, I felt so fast, it was just like a rush of energy. I had the support of Olympic champion, Butch Reynolds and my family, and pretty much my whole city came together to really make this happen and that’s why I went back home to do it. At the end of the day, ‘fastest man in the world on two hands,’ I was able to do it in a place that means a lot to me.”
If your recent social media posts are anything to go by, you are not stopping there! Do you have any other challenges in mind?
Right now, I’m working on re-breaking [this record]. On a second note, I’m going to try and set the record for world’s fastest rope climb.
What are some of the exercises that you implement into a workout?
I do everything that’s more focused on what sport I am in, and what body part, but when it comes to pullups, I can do a lot of them (at least 20 to 30 per set). I do a lot of dips and I try to do a lot of reps of everything because when it comes to everything that I do, I need the strength but I also need the stamina that comes with the strength. So, when it comes to lifting, I’m not going to always go super heavy. Yeah, I can lift a lot but I might go half that weight and lift for reps, so I gradually build the strength plus the stamina.
How much of an issue is your bodyweight when moving between your different sporting disciplines while also making sure that you are the fastest that you can be?
When it comes to my body, I feel like depending on what I’m doing, whether I’m wrestling or track and field or trying to break my Guinness record, all 3 have different movements, so with track and field I’m pushing a [wheel] chair. For wrestling I’m pretty much using every muscle in my body, and then for breaking the record I am mainly using my hands and arms, so when it comes to being on my hands, I try to cut a little bit of weight. Being a wrestler, its pretty easy [to lose weight], you just sweat and naturally lose it. I won’t look like I’m smaller, I would say. I feel like I’m more lean because I just lose that last little bit of bodyfat, but just that little bit can push you ahead that couple of seconds.
Do you enjoy food? Do you have a bit appetite?
Ah, I have a huge appetite. There’s a lot of self-control that goes on (laughs). Everything that I do put into my body, I try to make sure everything is healthy and natural. I like to go shopping and I like to cook my own food. I like chicken, steak, but everything that is unprocessed.
Do gyms still have a way to go in order to be an inclusive space?
Man, this is something I always love talking about for the purpose that we need to change it, so when it comes to accessibility you don’t see a lot of physically challenged people in gyms and the reasoning is because there’s not equipment really made for us. When you look at society, there’s not many ramps, there aren’t many accessible buildings for emergency type situations. It needs to change because accessibility is an important factor in [making] progress when it comes to pushing forward in society.
In gyms, to me, it’s not fair that you have people that can’t even go to the gym, that really want to, just because the equipment isn’t accessible and the way you fix that is to go back to the drawing board, back to R&D, and really research what’s going to help make this a reality. I’ve worked with some people and I’ve talked to some people because it’s something I really want to see some change in. It’s just [a matter of] who’s willing to put their hand in, and really make this change on a global effort.
Fashion and clothing is another area where you are working with brands to build an awareness?
“My body is built so disproportionate. I can where a large shirt, but it’s too long, so it almost drags on the ground but it fits up top. You can’t just go to the store and get a custom fit shirt that isn’t as long. But in the fashion industry, [with things being] more accessible, I’m already seeing some changes. I think it’s a really big step and I’m excited to be included in some of that.
Indeed! And you will be teaming with Runway of Dreams alongside more than 60 models with disabilities or differences, to showcase some mainstream adaptive clothing. Are you excited to get on stage on March 8th?
“I’ve done quite a few modeling type gigs but I haven’t done a fashion show. So, we’re gonna see how this goes! I’m definitely excited, it’s going to be a new experience. I’ve got my personal designer working on something. It’s going to be a surprise. Absolutely awesome!
For anyone looking to overcome their own challenges and learn more about your journey, your book is such a great tool for this. How proud are you of Zion Unmatched?
If you want to be inspired by a picture expose with a lot of inspirational quotes, and my story, I would say check it out!