Zion Clark was born without legs due to a rare condition known as caudal regression syndrome, but if stature can be memorized, then this athlete from Columbus, OH is a giant among men.
Clark has proven that "opportunity is a matter of perspective" and helped redefine ideas about the place of the physically challenged in society, thanks to important work such as his photo essay Zion Unmatched, written by New York Times bestselling journalist James S. Hirsch and, of course, his Emmy-nominated short Zion captured millions of hearts around the world with his " Excuses" attitude.
From humble beginnings as a troubled child growing up in foster care, to shattering stereotypes as a wrestler, to breaking world records and chasing new dreams, this extraordinary gentleman took time with M&F for an exclusive chat about his current endeavors, still pushing new boundaries, both inside and outside of sport.
You broke the record for walking 20 meters on your hands in 4.78 seconds at your former high school gym in Massillon, OH. How was your training prior to this Guinness World Record achievement?
The training was definitely brutal. Lots of hard work, lots of extra time on the treadmill. Lots of time just for running. I did 4, 5 and 6 mile runs on my hands to prepare my body. When it came down to it, I felt so fast, it was like an energy boost. I had the support of Olympic gold medalist Butch Reynolds and my family, and pretty much my whole town got together to really make this happen, so I went back home to do it. At the end of the day, 'world's fastest man on two hands', I got to do it in a place that means a lot to me.”
If your recent social media posts are anything, don't stop here! Do you have other challenges in mind?
At the moment I'm working on rebreaking [this record]. Second, I will try to set the record for the world's fastest rope climb.
What are some of the exercises that you incorporate into a workout?
I do anything that's more geared towards what sport I'm doing and body part, but when it comes to pull-ups I can do a lot of them (at least 20-30 per set). I do a lot of dips and I try to do a lot of reps of everything because whatever I do I need the strength, but I also need the stamina that comes with strength. So when it comes to lifting, I won't always go super heavy. Yes, I can lift a lot, but I could take half the weight and lift for reps, so I'm gradually building strength plus endurance.
How important is your body weight when moving between your different sports while making sure you're going as fast as possible?
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, they all have 3 different movements, so with track and field I push in [wheel] Armchair. In wrestling I use pretty much every muscle in my body and to break the record I mostly use my hands and arms so I try to shed a bit of weight when it comes to being on my hands. As a wrestler, it's pretty simple [to lose weight], you only sweat and of course lose your nerve. I won't look like I'm any smaller I'd say. I feel like I'm leaner because I'm losing every last bit of body fat, but just that little bit can get you ahead in those few seconds.
Do you like to eat? Do you have any appetite?
Ah, I have a huge appetite. There's a lot of self-control that goes on (laughs). With everything I 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 anything unprocessed.
Do gyms still have a way to go to be an inclusive space?
Man, that's something I always love to talk about because we need to change it. So when it comes to accessibility, you don't see a lot of physically challenged people in gyms, and that's because there's no equipment that's really made for us. If you look at society, there aren't many ramps, there aren't many accessible buildings for emergencies. It needs to change because accessibility is an important factor in [making] Progress when it comes to getting ahead in society.
In gyms I don't think it's fair that there are people who can't even go to the gym who really want just because the equipment isn't accessible and the way you fix that is to go to the 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 a few people and spoken to a few people because it's something I really want to see a change in. It's easy [a matter of] who is willing to put their hand in it and really make this change happen with a global effort.
Fashion and clothing is another area where you work with brands to build awareness?
“My body is so disproportionately built. I can wear a big shirt, but it's too long so it almost drags on the floor, but the top fits. You can't just go to the store and buy a tailored shirt that isn't that long. But in the fashion industry [with things being] more accessible, I already see some changes. I think it's a really big step and I'm excited to be a part of it.
As a matter of fact! And you will collaborate with Runway of Dreams along with more than 60 models with disabilities or differences to present some adaptable mainstream clothing. Are you looking forward to going on stage on March 8th?
"I've done quite a few modeling gigs, but I haven't done a runway show yet. So, we'll see how that goes! I'm definitely excited, it's going to be a new experience. I have my personal designer working on something. It will be a surprise. Absolutely great!
For anyone who wants to overcome their own challenges and learn more about their journey, your book is a great tool to do so. How proud are you of Zion Unmatched?
If you want to be inspired by a picture exhibition with lots of inspirational quotes and my story, I would say check it out!