Chris Hunt Skelley MBE PLY is a Paralympic Judoka Champion who won gold in his weight class at Tokyo 2020 and is now in training to qualify to compete again at Paris 2024.
He was born in Nottingham but moved to Hull when he was five years old. A shy child, his parents encouraged him to take up sports. He took up rugby and judo, as both sports are perfect for someone who finds it difficult to talk to others, because you have to get close when you are involved in tackles or judo moves.
Although initially it took Chris out of his comfort zone, he made loads of friends and this helped shaped his personality today.
Chris had eye problems when he was young, but it wasn’t until he was 19 when his condition was actually diagnosed. He spent a lot of his life not being believed when he said his eyesight was not good. At one point he was even put into a psychiatric unit briefly due to health professionals not believing him about his condition which didn’t have a name or label for a long time.
Chris always had to wear sunglasses, even at night time and dark lens to protect his eyes from light. At school he had to have things enlarged, but no one ever knew what the problem was. Through a connection of his father, Chris was eventually whisked off to the US for testing to see what was happening. That was when they discovered he has a rare form of albinism. His eye condition is Ocular Albinism and he is literally blinded by light.
Eventually his condition degenerated further, leaving him unable to continue his potential career as a mechanic or to play team sport safely.
Not surprisingly, this took Chris to a very dark place, where without the support of his parents, a tough time would have been even tougher. And without judo, which he went to each evening, he doesn’t know what he would have done. Though Chris feels that this incredibly tough time in his life and how he came through it defines who he is. After going through that and coming out the other side, every other problem is tiny.
It was while fighting blindfolded and winning against sighted competitors that Chris was spotted as a potential elite athlete and fighter.
After finding VI Judo (Visually Impaired Judo), Chris moved to Walsall to train full-time at the British Judo Centre of Excellence. Judo became the one shining light in his life, and the one that helped him escape his daily challenges. His training in Walsall meant with access to the club coaches, his life took on a brighter future. Training alongside potential Olympians helped to give him confidence and made him feel part of the team. He refocussed, and then went for it.
Since competing, he has won a number of medals, including being crowned European Champion, has won two World Championship bronze medals, for five years he has won Silver Medals at the IBSA World Cup events, as well as becoming ranked world number 1 in the 100kg category, and he won gold at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo – a dream come true for this humble man. In 2023 he is competing to win a place to compete in a new weight category at Paris 2024. In August he took silver at the inaugural European Para Championships in Rotterdam and is still ranked World Number 1.
Outside of judo Chris is an ambassador for Phoenix Enterprises and during lockdown he was delivering food parcels to vulnerable members of his community, which saw Chris win the UK Sport Social Impact award at the PLx award evening. In 2022 he was awarded the MBE. Chris lives in Wiltshire with his wife, former wheelchair tennis player, Louise Hunt Skelley PLY, whom he married in September 2022 and their beloved therapy dog Milo.