Local paralympian takes gold in Judo at Brazil games

By Jessica Durston - 14 July 2022

Sport
  • Chris Skelley

    Chris Skelley

Wroughton-based paralympic gold medalist Chris Skelley has triumphed at the Sao Paulo IBSA Grand Prix this year, and has taken another gold home.

The 29-year-old Judo champion found himself pitted against fellow teammate and long term friend, Jack Hodgson.

Chris said he narrowly defeated him to take first place. He is now ranked as the world number three. 

Chris explained: “This win was exactly what I needed for me to really believe in myself and my ability to succeed at this level in judo."

Prior to competing in Sao Paulo, Chris won gold at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. 

He said that he experienced a knock of confidence after this win. 

Chris added: “It sounds illogical to say winning a Paralymic gold medal can knock your confidence, but it’s really not that unusual for athletes at this level to feel like that after such a big achievement. It can be difficult to know what to do next.

"This win has really helped get me back to my normal confident self and I now feel I’m ready to take on the next challenge.”

Chris will now go on to compete in the World Judo Visually Impaired Championships in Azerbaijan in November.

The world championships are the first qualifying event for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris, in which Chris is aiming to compete, and he says he is excited about the challenges ahead over the next few months. 

He commented: “It’s an important moment in my overall competitive ambitions and, now that I’m home from Brazil, I’m keen to get back to training so that I can start to prepare for November.” 

Chris has been training at the British Judo Olympic and Paralympic National Training Centre in Walsall since 2013 and practices three to four times per day, at least five days a week.

Competing against one of his closest friends in Brazil for the gold medal was an added challenge that Chris said he was not expecting to face. 

He added: “It was strange to be up against Jack. We’ve been close friends for about ten years and even used to share a house together.

It’s the nature of competition at this level that you’ll often face someone for whom you have huge professional admiration, but to be competing against someone who is also a close personal friend and whose wedding you’ll be going to the following weekend is not an everyday occurrence! It was a good fight, though, and I’m happy that we both gave it our all.”

Skelley has been participataing in judo since he was five-years-old and says it was a huge comfort to him when he experienced sight loss as a teenager.

He explains: "Id worn glasses from a very young age and had always had to have written materials at school blown up to A3 to have any chance of seeing the content, so my vision had always been an issue, but it was very difficult to get any kind of clarity from doctors in the UK about exactly what the problem was.

"By the time I was having significant difficulties at the age of 17, they’d basically said they thought I was making it all up.”  

After travelling to the US at the age of 19 to undergo intense testing of all his physical systems, Chris was finally diagnosed with ocular albinism, a genetic condition which can include the photophobia and blurred vision symptoms that he’d been living with all his life.

He is now registered blind and says getting the diagnosis in the States was a really strange moment in his life. 

Chris said: “It was surreal. Even though I’d always known that something wasn’t right, doctors had been telling me for years there was nothing wrong with me and that I was making up these symptoms. I now found myself not only being believed, but being diagnosed with this condition, and it would mean that parts of my life were going to have to change.” 

A constant in Chris’s life throughout all this was his nightly judo routine and he says it’s what kept him going and enabled him to ultimately remain positive during such a challenging period. 

He added: “The fact that, ten years later, I am practicing judo professionally and have an Olympic gold medal under my belt is incredible. Bringing home this latest gold medal from Brazil just makes me more determined than ever to compete at the highest possible level and I can’t wait to get to the world championships in November.” 

Chris currently lives in Wroughton with his fiancé Louise Hunt PLY who was herself one of the UK’s most successful Paralympians in tennis. The couple are getting married in September.

Chris’s sponsors and partners include British Judo; British Paralympic Association and the National Lottery.  

To find out more about Chris, individuals can visit his website at https://www.chrisskelley.co.uk

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