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Sometimes it’s the dark periods of our life that give us the determination to get back up and forge ahead with our dreams. Chris has definately found this to be the case, and his drive has led him to become a champion in his field. Chris’ story shows that adopting a fighting spirit can lead us to a level that may not have been in our vision without the push of the challenge…
Hi, my name is Chris Skelley. I am a Paralympic Judo athlete. I was born on 09/07/93 so that makes me middle aged for an athlete, which is quite scary. I was born in Nottingham but I moved to Hull when I was really young and lived most of the rest of my life in Hull until I moved to Walsall in 2013.
I started Rugby and Judo at the age of five. My parents got me into the sport because they wanted me to socialise with other people, they wanted me to make sure I progressed in society and to make sure I didn’t get identified as a person with hearing problems.
My hearing problems have lasted throughout my whole life so my mum and dad wanted to make sure I worked hard at socialising and interacting with people. And I carried rugby and judo alongside each other. I used to go to school and then in the evenings I used to do my sport. It kept me off the street corners and kept me on the straight and narrow and really gave me a structured life, which I loved.
I left school at 16. I had good grades – I had struggled at school because I had really bad dyslexia and hearing problems and I started to notice that my sight was struggling a little bit but I just thought, you know, I needed glasses.
Then I left school and trained to be a mechanic and when I came to be between 16 and 20 it was the worst time in my life because I really struggled with my eyes – my eyes got a lot worse with the light. They got a lot worse with sight and vision, and it started to become difficult in the dark and I struggled to see in the dark. I started to become really reactive to light. I really struggled with depth perception and it kind of freaked me out a bit.
There were no answers to what was happening so in this part of my life – I lost my job and my driving and everything kind of left my hands. I was really struggling and the only constant thing in my life was Judo. Judo took me out of that dark part in my life and really helped me through that difficult period – because I had no answers.
None of the doctors in England could help me with getting a diagnosis. So I went over to America. I started with a clean sheet over there. I was very lucky to have a private sponsor who got me over there to get me a diagnosis. I came back here and with further tests found out that I had ocular albinism. Apparently I’ve always had it but there was no diagnosing me when I was really young. I’ve always struggled with my eyes but no one told me until I got to America, or when I came back here to talk to some private doctors. From that I got classified to be a visually impaired Judo fighter.
So when one door closed (my job and my driving) another one opened with Judo. In 2013 I got offered a place at the British Judo Centre for Excellence to train and travel around the world and become a full time Judo athlete. That was really special in my life because everything was lost and I had no other option, I had no one to point me in the right direction. It was a gut feeling and I felt I could do it as a job and it’s taken off from there.
However, in 2015 I had one of my worst injuries I have ever had so far (touch wood). Two years into my training at the Centre. I was in Grimsby one night with my coach, Ian Johns, and I dislocated my hip. At that point it got really dark in my life; it was a really dark moment because my career nearly ended there and then. I was lying on the mat crying and screaming. I was trying to qualify for Rio 2016 and I wasn’t in a very good position, I was quite low down in the world ranking list and I had to go and fight in Korea which was six weeks later. I got it put back in, in Grimsby, after about six hours of waiting on the judo mat for an ambulance to come. They put it back in and then I had another operation two weeks or three weeks later to clean it out and get myself sorted out.
Three weeks after that I was in Korea fighting. So that was a really dark period again in my life. Not only because a few years before that I had lost everything, and then gained it back because of Judo but then I nearly lost it again. And it really made me want to medal at the World Games in Korea, which I did and it put me in a really good place for qualifying.
I medalled at a few more tournaments which put me in a tremendous place for qualifying for Rio, which I did. The preparation for Rio was really good with no injuries. Sadly, Rio wasn’t my time. I didn’t medal. This was a really down period again, a really dark period; because I really wanted to medal and have a success to everything that had happened to me. It only made me stronger and want to carry on.
After that in 2017 I got back on the horse, you know carried on riding – like Joe Mallon. I had one of my highest career highlights; which was winning the European Championships in Walsall. This was really special to me because my mum, my dad, my sister and my friends were there. So everyone saw the most important day so far in my career.
Leading into Tokyo in 2018 I had a good summer. I got a World bronze medal and last year in 2019 I became world number one – which was another career highlight. So in the last four years I’ve grown up a lot and my career has flourished, I think you would say. I’ve had some really good results in the last four years and now hopefully I’m trying to get a medal in Tokyo 2020.
Preparations leading to Tokyo have been really good. Last year was my best year yet because every competition I went to I medalled at. Last year I got; two gold, two silver and two bronze medals which is really good and I’m really pleased with that. I think that has set me up for my preparation. I had a great block of about five months getting myself bigger and stronger and I’m still doing that now and I’m now into the final power phase with the final push for Tokyo and hopefully I can carry on with good preparation and move forward.
It’s very good to currently be ranked world number one, especially going into Tokyo but everyone who does Judo knows that ranking doesn’t matter especially on the day. As long as I get my preparations right leading to Tokyo I’m not bothered where I’m ranked. I just want to make sure I put a good performance in August 30th, when I fight.
Off the mat I am an ambassador for a charity in Swindon called Phoenix Enterprises which helps people get back into work. I’m also an ambassador back in Hull for a charity called Disability Sport Humber which helps people get into sport with a disability and helps them raise money and awareness around the Shropshire area.
I’m trying to train to be a counsellor, a level three counsellor. I am going to go back to college after the Paralympics and try to get my training there. I’m also a keen pork pie enthusiast. I love my Pork Pies, which my nutritionist is not happy about. I love a good quiz. Some of the lads from the Judo team have set up a quiz team on a Tuesday night, so I like to try and take my mind away from Judo when I’m not doing it.
It’s important to have a separate part of your life to be a bit more of a person outside of Judo as well and to have a balance between Judo and your outside life. I’m also a godfather which I’m really pleased about. So, you know, I’m everywhere. I’m here, there and everywhere. I’m like a butterfly.
Family has played an important role in my life. They have supported me. My mum has been there since day one of Judo, and my dad has too, and my sisters, who all just support me in my journey. Recently in the last few years I’ve had more help with family and friends, I’ve had a serious girlfriend who is a Paralympic tennis player, so she understands the pressures of sport and that’s really nice to have that support from her as well. And I have great group of friends who have supported me since day one. I’m very lucky to have a good support network around me. I’m very, very happy with a very good support network.
Follow Chris to see how he gets on in Tokyo at…
Chris – @ChristopherSke2