Jack Eyers - British Canoeing Paracanoe athlete
Since his selection as a British Canoeing Paracanoe athlete in 2015, Jack Eyers has earned many incredible achievements in the sport, from racing in the Sprint Canoe World Cup earlier this year to qualifying for the Sprint Canoe World Championships in Copenhagen this month.
Electively amputating his leg when he was 16, Jack is driven to change the general perception of disability. He has gained outstanding titles including being the first amputee to walk on the New York Fashion Week catwalk and winning the title of Mr England.
We caught up with Jack to chat about his passion for canoeing, why he loves working in the fitness industry and his advice on how to stay goal orientated and motivated.
Congratulations on qualifying for the World Championships in Copenhagen in September! How do you prepare for competition, and what keeps you on track with your training?
This season I have already competed at the Sprint Canoe World Cup in Szeged and also at a number of national regattas so the majority of the training in preparation for the World Championships is complete. It's now just about fine tuning my paddling technique and working on my speed endurance.
As part of the British Canoeing Paracanoe programme, I am lucky enough to have a full support team around me from coaching, strength & conditioning, physiotherapy and a performance psychologist. I work with this support team weekly and they help to keep me on track working towards my goals.
2018 was your first international season racing in canoeing. How did you get into the sport and what inspired you to pursue it competitively?
I have always had an interest in kayaking and being on the water. I started paddling with Poole Harbor Canoe Club in 2015. The club received an email from British Canoeing who were looking for new talent. PHCC put my name forward and I attended a talent camp at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham.
The fast and exciting nature of sprint canoeing was something that really interested me. We race on flat water over 200m. The training for a sprint sport was also very attractive to me. We spend a lot of time in the gym lifting heavy weights training to get strong and powerful. Most water sessions are HITT style training with short bursts of max effort, working on boat speed. This is what got me hooked!
What specifically do you love about canoeing over other sports that you have previously competed in?
I have tried many other para sports but for one reason or another it wasn’t for me. Being an athlete requires you to commit your life to your sport. You have to be obsessed with training, recovery, nutrition, energy management etc. So if the sport isn’t your passion, you will find it hard to commit. I absolutely love being on or in the water, whether that be swimming, scuba diving, surfing, waterskiing or paddling a kayak. My job as a canoeist requires me to be on the water every day, even in the wind, rain, sleet and snow, and I love it! I am extremely grateful to have a job as a Paracanoe athlete.
If you’re not training or working, what is your go-to when having downtime?
I train with the British canoeing squad in Nottingham at the National Watersports Centre. When I’m not training I spend my time back in Bournemouth with my partner or catching up with mates. We spend a lot of time at the beach. I try to swim in the sea at least once a week (even in winter). I also dive with Dorset Diving at least once a month. Other than that I spend most of my down time cooking and eating.
After your leg amputation aged 16, you said that it ‘opened many doors’ from previously feeling ‘restricted’. Why was this and what did that turning point feel like?
I electively had my leg amputated at 16 because of a condition I had since birth. The condition stunted the growth of my right femur and therefore I walked with a short leg. Over time, my condition got worse and started to affect my knee and hip. This meant I eventually had to walk with a straight leg, even at the age of 16 I was 6ft 2inch. This became very impractical and I became restricted by my disability. After my amputation I was fitted with a prosthetic limb that allowed me to bend my knee. I remember feeling that I was no longer disabled. That was the turning point for me.
You have worked in the fitness industry for over a decade. What is the most fulfilling part of working in this sector?
I started working as a personal trainer in 2010. I lived in Somerset at the time and worked out of three different gyms around the area. In 2011 I decided to move to Bournemouth and set up a personal training company based out of a busy gym in the centre of the town. I built a strong client base, working with both able bodied clients and less so.
As a self-employed PT you adapt many roles including; accountant, PR & marketing, life coach and therapist. For me the most fulfilling part of my job was working with people and helping them to overcome personal barriers (physical and mental).
The best success stories are those where my clients transform their life because of the conversation we had in the gym. I like to think of the gym as a training ground, a controlled environment where we can challenge our comfort zones and learn self-worth.
What do you think is key to staying motivated if you are training in a new sport and what personally inspires you to achieve your fitness goals?
I believe motivation comes from goal setting short term and long term goals. I would say it’s also vitally important that you track progress.
If you are starting a new sport, have a willingness to learn. Accept that you will make mistakes even in front of people who potentially have been doing the sport for years, and this might make you feel a fool at times. Get excited that one day you will be talented at this new sport.
What is your proudest achievement to date and why?
I have a number of proud moments so I will list a few of them.
First amputee to walk on the New York Fashion Week catwalk
First amputee to win the title of Mr England
Front cover of Men's Health
London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony
GB Paracanoe athlete
The reason these are all my proudest moments is because they have the same message. After my amputation in 2005 I made it my mission to challenge the perception of disability, from weak and vulnerable to beautiful, strong and relevant.
Is there anything that you would like to see change or develop for accessible sports?
Sports need to become more widely accessible for all abilities. There needs to be better training for club coaches and more equipment available at all clubs up and down the country. Schools and sports centres should have a range of specialist sports equipment for every ability level.
What’s next after the World Championships and what goals do you have for yourself in the next 12 months?
The World Champs is the final race of the 2021 season. We will take some time off to regenerate ready for the winter training block.
I have some personal goals that I will be working on over the winter block. Goals in the gym where I will be looking to get stronger on certain lifts. I will also be working on my fitness for on the water.
Next year the World Championships are in Canada so I am working on being selected for that competition.
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Film by Oli Hillyer-Riley