Wrestler Zion Clark is inspiring. Born without his legs, he was given for adoption by his parents, suffered negligence and abuse, but discovered a new life when he dedicated himself to sports. Today he is a renowned wrestler, and his story is told in the documentary short “Zion”, which started streaming in August on Netflix.
Zion was born in September 29, 1997, in the U.S. city of Columbus, Ohio, without both legs. As if the physical limitation imposed by the caudal regression syndrome, a congenital malformation that, in his case, prevented the body from developing from the waist down during gestation, he was abandoned by his biological parents. He then lived in seven or eight orphanages, according to his own estimates. There, he starved and was spanked many times, as he recalls. “I won’t lie, I wasn’t a good kid. After everything I went through, I had a very bad attitude towards many things”, said the athlete when remembering his own childhood.
The role model who helped Zion to shape his own history was wrestler Klye Maynard, who overcame the congenital amputation of his arms to become the first man to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania.
Zion’s idol had his story told in a book called “No Excuses”, and possibly made Zion feel privileged and have fewer reasons to give excuses. After all, the wrestler still had his two arms, extremely strengthened by the exercises he undertake when walking on them and sustaining the weight of his body, and was able to use them fully. The phrase that gave the book its name is tattooed in his back.
A wrestler since before six years of age, he had his first big break thanks to the sport. He moved from North Canton to Massillon, both the state of Ohio, and began to fight competitively. He admits he did not know very well what he was doing at first. “They just said go grab his legs and try to take him down – there’s no technique. I thought it was the most fun thing in the world!”, he said in an interview to Kent State University, where he currently studies.
Throughout his whole childhood, he was unable to obtain any victories as a wrestler. But they started to come as he got older. Weighing 40 kg, he was placed in the featherweight category, with fighters who weighed 50 kg. He ended up as one of the top eight wrestling student-athletes in the country, with 15 victories in 33 fights in Massillon by the time he graduated.
When he met coach Gilbert Donahue, Zion was introduced to a new fighting technique and to a new meaning of the word motivation. “We found out what techniques made him successful and what techniques he could not use. We began to exploit his positives and rigorously drilled the techniques he could use with his condition. And that’s how Zion’s wrestling style was born”, Donahue told in an interview to ESPN.
The coach also had a motivational role over his kid. “He pushed me to the point past exhaustion. And when I had mental breakdowns, he just talked me up, really got me going”, explained the athlete. The key to his success is persistence and trial and error, and the mantra “no excuses”.
In his last year before graduating, he was defeated by an opponent who took fourth place in the Ohio state ranking. In this fight, Zion’s rival jumped over him and ended up hitting his head.
“My nose was bleeding, my eye was cut. I had to be taped up to keep going. I said to my coach, ‘I can’t do this.’ Coach Donahue said, ‘You made it this far, you have to keep doing your job. Don’t give me any excuses’, that was his speech, Zion remembered.
Another sport in which the wrestler has been standing out is wheelchair racing. Using a special three-wheel equipment, operated only by the arms and upper body, Clark manages to reach incredible speeds in the tracks, around 32 kilometers per hour.
The chair is very difficult to control. I tried to quit, but my coach talked to me and put my head back in place”. And once again he overcame his obstacles; the wrestler became the fastest special athlete in Ohio. In 2016, he won the 100-meter and 400-meter categories, and came in third in the 800-meter.
But Zion’s biggest achievement so far was in wrestling. The end of his career as an university wrestler was cheered by a crowd of hundreds of people at the Massillon gymnasium. Donahue lifted him up after an honorable defeat, and the moment was registered for posterity like a movie scene. The movie, an 11-minute documentary short, can be seen by Netflix subscribers.
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