Vision impaired athlete, Zak Skinner, sets sights on Tokyo Paralympics 2020

Zak Skinner with a blue sky in the background

2017 has so far been an incredible year for eighteen-year-old vision impaired athlete Zak Skinner. For most young people of his age, the prospect of ‘A’ level exams would be enough pressure to deal with over one summer, but Zak, who was born blind, also found time in July to represent Great Britain at the London World Para Athletics Championships.

This was Zak’s debut on the world stage, where he narrowly missed out on a medal but achieved two personal bests in his events (100m and long jump) and proved that he is definitely one to watch in the field of para sport.

RSBC’s Mel Vessey caught up with Zak to find out about his journey so far:

Congratulations on your amazing performance at the London World Para athletics Championships. How did you get there?
Just a couple of years ago, I talked to my coach about going for the championships. I’d only recently been classified as a category T13 athlete, so with relatively little time to get ready, we knew that it was a long shot, but well worth it. I had to just stop everything to give it my all.

I studied for my A levels alongside my training, which was a bit of a juggle but my school were very supportive and allowed me to study at home so I could carry on with the training. Friends and family have helped me a lot but ultimately it’s about what you put in as an athlete.

Building up to the champs in July, I’d be doing between 15 and 20 hours a week on the track and at the gym. I also had to make a lot of sacrifices in my social life, so going to night clubs with my mates at the weekends has been out of the question!

Can you tell us a bit about your attitude to life as a young blind person?
I have a genetic condition called ocular albinism. Of course it’s really hard, particularly as a teenager. It’s with you every minute of every day. For me it’s been about acceptance and just getting on with life. I was born without sight so I haven’t had to adjust to it, which I think can perhaps make a difference. For me sport is massively empowering. Being able to compete in the sports I enjoy most is an amazing feeling.

How did you feel stepping out for team GB at your first major competition this summer?
It was an amazing feeling and although I was very nervous, particularly at the start of my 100m event, I just wanted to make sure I took it all in. The stadium crowd were brilliant and it gave me a boost to know that my family and friends were there to cheer me on. I just kept telling myself that I could do it, I’d done all the work and it was just another competition. I just tried to keep smiling and enjoy the moment.

How did you start out in athletics?
At school I played rugby. My dad played at the top of the sport so it’s in the family. Then I started going to after school clubs and a local athletics club when I was 14 and from here I found myself a coach. Someone then suggested para sport to me and that quickly became my focus.

What’s next for you?
I’m going off to Loughborough University to study Sports Science. Here I’ll be able to continue my athletics training and obviously I’m massively excited about this next chapter in my life.

Obviously I’ve got my sights set on the next World Championships and ultimately the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020, where I’d love to make it onto the podium for the first time.

What would be your advice to any young vision impaired people who want to make it to your level in para sport?
To try everything out and go with the sports you’re best at and love the most. Its totally about putting in the hours so if you love what you’re doing and are determined enough, you’ll go as far as you want to go in your chosen sport.

Want to find out more about sport for vision impaired young people?

RSBC runs Health and Well-being sessions for vision impaired young people age 8 – 25 where activities include sports such as football, goalball and cricket,  designed to get participants active, develop new skills and learn the fundamentals of movement. Alongside this our expert coaches also run workshops on topics such as nutritional awareness and self-confidence, to develop key skills that will help maintain a healthy lifestyle for the future.

To find out more or to sign up today, fill in your details below and a member of the team will be in touch. Or you can give us a call on 020 3198 0225 or email connections@rsbc.org.uk We’d love to hear from you.

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