SAN DIEGO – Zion Clark had every reason to quit. And yet, he still hasn’t. That inner strength now has the Pacific Beach resident eyeing a spot in this year’s Paralympic Games.
“Zion, it’s a biblical name, but to me, it’s very sturdy,” Clark said. “It’s a very sturdy and strong name. To me, I look at it like the mountain.”
Growing up in his Ohio hometown, he said there were other kids in wheelchairs, but nobody else had what he does. Clark was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a disorder that impairs development of the lower half of a person’s body, according the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Only about one out of every 100,000 kids is born with the disorder.
As a child, he was given up for adoption by an unfit mother. He bounced around several foster homes until age 17.
“It was a recipe for disaster,” he said. “I had no family, no friends. I had really no one.”
But he found an outlet in wrestling. He picked up the sport as a young child and kept on competing. Despite losing “hundreds” of matches along the way, he turned the corner as a high school senior, winning his first 15 matches in a row and earning a scholarship to Kent State University.
“(Wrestling) really teaches you to hold your own against others and hold your own in the world,” he said. “It teaches that resilience, that discipline and respect.”
He’s now channeling that effort onto the track as the second-fastest 100-meter Paralympic sprinter in the country.
Even with numerous athletic accolades, he still wants more out of life. He’s spearheading his own clothing brand called Real Deal and he’s pushing for changes to the foster care system.
Clark said he wants children be treated better and for families to require deeper background checks.
“I’ve done my homework on this and I’ve lived through it,” he said.