“My so-called ‘disability’ has actually opened many doors and I wanted to use this to change people’s perceptions and show my loss of limb doesn’t hold me back. I have a theory that when you have a life-changing operation or amputation you are reborn."
Jack Eyers became the first amputee to be crowned Mr. England last summer. Now, the British Para canoer not only has his sights on becoming Mr. World, but he is hoping to represent Great Britain at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
The 29-year-old will compete in his first international regatta at this weekend’s International Canoe Federation (ICF) Para Canoe World Cup in Szeged, Hungary (17-20 May), before he heads to Belgrade, Serbia, next month to represent Great Britain at the European Para Canoe Championships (8-10 June).
Eyers has always been passionate about fitness and sport. But having been born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency, a condition which prevented his right leg from growing properly, he struggled to walk and had low self-esteem.
“Before I had my leg amputated, I was very much into sport – I used to play rugby and football for school, I used to swim at county level, I used to horse ride,” Eyers said. “But as I got older and my disability got worse. I became very ashamed of my leg and very unconfident.
“I didn’t want people to see me without my trousers on. So, I stopped exercise for about five years,” Eyers added.
At the time, a lack of visible role models on TV or in the news left Eyers feeling like a “villain.”
“Paralympians and military heroes were not publicised in the media, it was before social media, so there wasn’t really any inspiration,” Eyers said.
“The only disability figures in the media were Captain Hook or villains in James Bond. So, I felt like a villain. I felt very vulnerable, ugly, weak – it was quite a dark moment for me, so I was desperate to have my leg amputated,” Eyers added.
There was one man in particular who had a huge influence on Eyers: amputee actor and stuntman, Louis Brownsell.
“He made me believe you can actually use your disadvantage as an advantage and meeting him was a massive eye opener for me,” he said.
Eyers did exactly that. After having his right leg amputated at age 16, he became a one-legged stuntman; from having his leg hacked off in films to performing daredevil stunts at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics in London.
London 2012 inspired Eyers to launch his modelling career with Models of Diversity, an agency that aims to increase body diversity in the fashion industry. Eyers set himself a mission of being a role model to fellow amputees.
“I realised how powerful it is to have a role model in your life,” Eyers said. “My so-called ‘disability’ has actually opened many doors and I wanted to use this to change people’s perceptions and show my loss of limb doesn’t hold me back.
“I have a theory that when you have a life-changing operation or amputation you are reborn. Like a child, you have to learn everything again; from learning how to walk to putting your shoes on to facing the world with confidence. I have found one of the best ways to build confidence is through challenging your perceived ‘comfort zone’ and changing people’s perceptions.”
He did just that: becoming the first amputee to walk in New York Fashion Week, and the first amputee to be crowned Mr. England.
The qualified personal trainer has now embarked on a new challenge: Para canoe.
“Tokyo is my main goal. But it’s not just getting to Tokyo, it’s about medalling in Tokyo,” Eyers said.
He played various Para sports, including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair racing, athletics, rowing and swimming. But he finally found the sport for him after taking up canoeing at Poole Harbour Canoe Club in 2014.
“I have always been interested in sport,” Eyers said. “But I just never found my passion, and a sport which I wanted to continue. I started canoeing purely for my pleasure, fitness and enjoyment and it has just developed from there. I really liked the fitness side of the sport, the outdoor element and being on the water.”
After impressing during his trial period at British Canoeing, Eyers relocated to Nottingham in October 2017, and joined their talent programme. Eight months later, he has been selected to represent Great Britain at the first World Cup event of the season beginning Friday (18 May) and next month’s European Championships.
“I never imagined I would be in this position just a few months later,” Eyers said. “Finding out I had been selected for the team was a huge moment for me. I can’t explain how it feels to work every single day as hard as you can, and to realise all your hard effort pays off, it is the biggest confidence boost you could ever imagine.”
Eyers’ ambitions also go outside of sports.
During his three weeks off in September, he will travel to the Philippines to compete for Mr. World, where he will be become the first amputee to take part in the competition.
“It has been a massive journey for me,” Eyers said. “I have actually done a full circle in terms of what actually inspired me to start with, which was sport. Mr. England has provided me a platform to inspire people and get people listening, and to be able to say I am now Mr. England and a GB athlete is just incredible.”
Jack Eyers can be followed on Twitter @JackEyers and by using the hashtag #1man1leg1mission.