Paralympic gold medallist Chris Skelley says judo saved him from dark place

Visually-impaired judoka Chris Skelley cried tears of joy after winning gold in Tokyo as he admitted the Japanese martial art gave meaning to his life during the devastating deterioration of his eyesight.

Skelley was born with genetic condition oculartanious albinism but a decline in his vision at the age of 17 turned his world upside down.

The 28-year-old – whose former coach Jeff Brady died less than three weeks before the start of the Games after suffering from Parkinson’s disease – secured the greatest moment of his life to date on Sunday by beating Ben Goodrich in the men’s B2 -100kg final.

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A self-confessed “awful crier”, he promptly burst into tears as he grabbed a Union Flag following glory at Nippon Budokan and blubbed long after edging out his American rival.

“It’s been a long road for the last 11 years – it was heartache in Rio but now it’s a different type of crying, it was a big relief,” said Skelley, who finished fifth in Brazil five years ago.

“Eleven years ago I was in the darkest part of my life because everything left me and the only thing that was left was my judo and to have that come true today, I couldn’t believe it.

“I lost my coach Jeff Brady only a few weeks ago and he was a big influence along with Ian Johns (British Judo Paralympic head coach) in my career. Everyone has just supported me over the years and believed in me. A lot of the time I’ve not believed in myself.

“Everyone laughs at me, I’m an awful crier. I cry at anything.

“I never expected to do this as a job; it’s my hobby, I love it because I love judo. And to stand here and talk to you now as a Paralympic champion, I’m lost for words.”

Skelley, who has a passion for cars, was forced to halt a budding career as a mechanic due to his declining sight, as well as give up his love of playing rugby.

While there was no podium place in Rio, he did return from that Games with the love of his life, wheelchair tennis player Louise Hunt.

The couple will marry next year, with Skelley certain more tears will flow.

“It’s going to be even worse (at the wedding),” he said.

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“I can get away with it here because obviously I’m fighting other men but I can’t get away with it there, I will be blubbing like a baby.

“I can’t wait to see Louise, I’m going to give her a massive hug. I can’t wait to see my mum, I need a big mum hug now.

“I’m just gutted they couldn’t be out here. I’m going to go home a Paralympic champion – I think this is a dream.”

Gold for Skelley followed silver in the B3 -90kg for GB teammate Elliot Stewart.

Stewart, who was defeated by Iranian Vahid Nouri, was born in 1988, the year his father Dennis won judo Olympic bronze in Seoul.

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“It’s a dream come true for me and for him,” said the 33-year-old.

“He’s always wanted me to do just as well as he has, even better, so I’m sure he will be super happy. I’m going to have to give him a ring in a bit, otherwise he’s going to go mad at me.”

Father-of-three Stewart – who has daughters aged nine and 10 and a five-year-old son – noticed a deterioration in his vision in 2016 and soon had to give up his job as a schools judo coach due to the driving involved.

“I didn’t know how I was going to support my family. But then my sport came through for me and it’s done the world of good for me,” said Stewart, who was diagnosed with keratoconus, a condition that causes the cornea to bulge.

“It’s got my head in the right place, it’s got me focused on something and my teammates showed me that just because you’ve lost your vision it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world, there’s something out there.”