Skinner’s approach not what the doctor ordered
When doctors advised para powerlifter Leigh Skinner not to lift anything heavy they made one critical mistake, they failed to define ‘too heavy’.
It was just the loophole he needed.
Skinner’s powerlifting strength has taken him all over the world, even when his body, and medical opinion, has tried to pull him away from the sport.
He took up para powerlifting as a 44-year-old in December 2008, by March 2009 he was in the Australian team.
Now 53, Skinner has been selected to compete in his third Commonwealth Games alongside Kelly Cartwright, Cristine Ashcroft, Ben Wright and Nang Nguyen.
While the rise through the ranks can be swift, Skinner knows the fall can come even faster.
The GC2018 Para Powerlifting Ambassador faced one of his biggest challenges a week before the Glasgow Commonwealth Games qualifiers in 2014.
He was completing his final training session before the competition when a split-second of lapsed concentration threatened to end his career.
"I was doing a heavy lift, I think it was about 176kg, and as I came down on my chest and went to push it back up, my wrist rolled, and the bar came down and crushed my chest," Skinner told GC2018.com.
"It felt like the bar actually touched my backbone, it squashed me that much."
Skinner had seven days to recover for the qualifying competition, his last chance to earn a ticket to Glasgow.
He had every reason to give up. In fact, doctors would have recommended he did, if he’d gone to see one.
"It was the hardest week of my life," he said.
"I didn’t go to the doctors to see if I had broken ribs, because I thought if I’d known it was broken ribs it would play on me."
Skinner had ‘rolled one of his ribs under the other one’ and damaged the cartilage.
"When we talk about the mental game, that was a massive mental learning game for me. I had to turn pain off, and then still compete and still be good enough to get into the team."
The courage Skinner showed in those seven days defines the way he approaches life. Without fear and driven by an unrelenting desire to be the very best.
When competition day approached, he knew he probably had one lift in him.
Skinner completed two lifts and qualified.
He believes the ability to push aside even the most excruciating pain, sometimes unwisely, is the crucial difference between athletes and non-athletes.
"I think it’s a small amount of craziness. There’s got to be some crazy inside your head," he said.
Athletes are wired differently to most human beings, because why do we all do it? There’s something there that pushes us all.
"I love coming here and pushing my body to the absolute max, and past that sometimes. But I love it. It is so good.
"I think what happened was I wanted to go to the Commonwealth Games so much, that I was willing to literally injure myself to go.
"It sounds a little crazy, but I think sometimes the universe puts blocks up inside of you to test you, to see how far you want it, if you really want it.
"A couple of months before that, I had a brain bleed as well. So I looked at the brain bleed and talked to the neurosurgeon and said; ‘I’m going to go to the Comm Games and you’re not stopping me.'
"He said we don’t need to fix you, it’s ok, just don’t lift anything too heavy.
"He didn’t really define ‘heavy’ so I just went back and trained."
When faced with unimaginable pain, Skinner has a unique way of coping.
"When I get pain, I go to a happy place," he said.
"My happy place used to be motocross, I used to ride motocross before I was disabled. I love it. And so I just jump on my bike in my head and go riding.
"It seems like the pain goes away, because I’m not there anymore, I’m riding my motocross bike."
He could be spending some time in his happy place as he prepares to compete at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre on Tuesday 10 April (get tickets).
When he's training, Skinner will be thinking about how much it means to him to compete in his third Games, just kilometres from home.
"I want to do it more than I can breathe," he said.
"I’m really looking forward to it."
See para powerlifters lift up to three times their bodyweight at GC2018 Para Powerlifting. Snap up your tickets now.