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IF YOU’VE NEVER seen Zion Clark wrestling, there comes a second in almost each one among his matches when he seems to be similar to each different competitor: within the down place, flexing his broad chest, huge arms, and sculpted again as he fights to flee his opponent’s maintain and acquire the benefit. However as soon as he does, it turns into clear how he’s completely different: Clark, 24, has no legs, attributable to a uncommon situation referred to as caudal regression syndrome. The Ohio native is nicely conscious that this makes him distinctive, however he’s adamant about not being handled otherwise due to it.
“What I’m doing blows most individuals’s minds,” says Clark, who now lives and trains in San Diego, on a Zoom name in October. “The very first thing they’re considering is: Holy crap, he doesn’t have legs. After which subsequent, it’s: Holy crap, he’s truly beating this dude up.” However in Clark’s eyes, he’s supposed to do this. He’s developed the life philosophy of “Be higher than”—as in be higher than whoever you’re at the moment, or your final accomplishment, or your self-doubt. It could sound clichéd, however that mentality has saved him grounded and motivated as he works towards the Paris 2024 Olympic Video games, the place he hopes to turn out to be the primary American to make each the Olympic and the Paralympic groups in two separate sports activities—wrestling within the former, wheel-chair racing within the latter.
Within the meantime, there are many methods to see Clark’s indomitable spirit in motion. You’ll be able to watch him within the 2018 Emmy-winning Netflix documentary Zion, which chronicles his life and his highschool wrestling profession at Massillon Excessive Faculty in Ohio. There, Clark, at three toes tall and 88 kilos, wrestled opponents who towered over and outweighed him, but as a senior, he was one level away from making it to the state championship. You’ll be able to tune in to his YouTube channel, the place he offers a fastidiously curated take a look at his world, through which he dives right into a pool, expertly performs the drums, crushes battle-rope exercises and field jumps, and even skateboards, all whereas providing extra inspirational maxims just like what you would possibly hear throughout his motivational-speaking gigs. And only a few months in the past, Clark set the Guinness World Document for the quickest 20-meter sprint on two fingers, with a formidable 4.78 seconds. Within the video he shared, you may see that his first time was truly quicker, however he needed to run the occasion once more as a result of he by chance ducked beneath the sensor on the end line.
Clark’s different motto—“No excuses”—is tattooed throughout his again. And whereas he would possibly lean on platitudes, his authenticity and depth floor when he talks about previous experiences and future targets. He grew up in Ohio’s foster-care system after being put up for adoption as an toddler. Ohio is a wrestling state, so Clark started competing in second grade, partly to channel his power and aggression. He misplaced almost all of his wrestling matches till 2015, when, throughout his senior 12 months of highschool, he grew robust sufficient to compensate for his lack of leverage and began to pin opponents. That very same 12 months, Clark was adopted by Kimberly Hawkins, his foster mom, and her recommendation—“If they will take a look at you, make certain they bear in mind your identify”—helped encourage him much more. (It’s additionally featured in his new picture e book, Zion Unmatched.) Clark ended the 12 months with a 33–15 document and continued wrestling whereas pursuing a enterprise diploma at Kent State College at Tuscarawas.
Courtesy Zion Clark
By the spring of 2020, he had bulked as much as 121 kilos and was making ready to wrestle within the U. S. Olympic staff trials forward of the Tokyo Video games when he tweaked his shoulder, which he must be very cautious with as a result of he walks utilizing his arms. That together with Covid-19 rules prevented him from staying in wrestling form, since he couldn’t prepare with others, so he determined to concentrate on wheelchair racing, one thing he’d excelled at in highschool. “I needed to get artistic to reinvent myself,” he says. “I wasn’t competing, however I used to be advancing my expertise behind closed doorways.”
He started a cross-training routine that he maintains at the moment. “All of his sports activities depend on explosive athletic motion, so [his training] entails replicating a variety of that,” says Craig Levinson, a former skilled basketball participant who’s Clark’s supervisor and coach. For instance, Levinson will drop a medication ball over Clark’s chest and have him catch it, then leap into an upright place. “We’ll do dumbbell presses on the ground, which don’t require as a lot core instability. It’s upper-body plyometrics, nearly: a variety of field jumps that contain exploding together with his fingers.”
In June, Clark competed within the U. S. Paralympic track-and-field staff trials for the Tokyo Video games, however he might need pushed himself too exhausting, aggravating his shoulder and again simply earlier than the occasion. Regardless of having the fourth-best time within the nation, he was one spot in need of making the staff. In response, he opted to vary his strategy to establishing and reestablishing targets: He’s stopped viewing success and failure as black and white. As a substitute, he seems to be for classes from every expertise. “Subsequent race, let’s attempt to get quicker with the hand velocity and extra correct strikes on the wheel,” he says. “Lots of people will simply suppose, Ah, I failed and really feel sorry for themselves. I believe, Ah, I failed—however I’m going to do that higher subsequent time.”
As we speak, Clark says he feels more healthy than ever. “In wrestling, I’m quicker and faster generally, my hand velocity is quicker, and the execution of my take-downs and submissions is quicker,” he says. “On the finish of the day, my method is nothing if I’m not quick.” He continues to depend on sure affirmations to maintain himself going. “ ‘I’m going to rise up at the moment. I’m going to be robust. I’m going after what I consider in—even when I fail,’ ” he says. “When you get the ‘I’m’ mindset, nothing can break that.” However he bristles at the concept that his story matches the form of archetypal motivational- porn narrative of adversity overcome that’s hooked up to so many Black athletes. He needs to clarify that he’s way over the sum of his traumas or no matter exceptionalism surrounds his achievements. “When some individuals see my story, it’s nearly like, ‘Oh, I really feel dangerous for you and I’m sorry these issues occurred to you.’ And I perceive that, however on the similar time, I’m not that child. I actually wish to be identified for what I’m doing and who I’m.”
So he’s trying ahead, not backward. In current months, that’s meant coaching for javelin throwing—one other potential Olympic sport for him—and sparring with some MMA athletes. And he stays clear headed concerning the positive line between Zion Clark the particular person and Zion Clark the athlete. “I is likely to be a wrestler, a observe athlete, and all these nice issues, however on the similar time, I’d prefer to say that I’m an honest drummer—or simply an all-around respectable musician,” says Clark, who additionally performs the piano and trumpet. And he believes he can nonetheless be higher than all that. “The individuals in my circle anticipate me to win,” he says. “They anticipate me to achieve success on a regular basis as a result of they’re proper there working with me.”
This story seems within the January/February problem of Males’s Well being.
Julian Kimble writes about tradition (and slightly bit extra) for The New York Instances, the Los Angeles Instances, the Washington Put up, GQ, The Ringer, and others.
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