To look at him, you may not realise there is anything different about him, but 28-year-old Irishman Jason Smyth suffers from Stargardt disease, an inherited genetic condition which has robbed him of 90 percent of his eyesight. Affecting the macula in the centre of the retina, Jason’s central and detailed vision has been reduced, and he is unable to discern colours clearly. Despite his disability, Jason has dedicated his life, since discovering in his teens that he could run, to becoming the very best at what he does and currently holds three world records, six gold IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Championship medals and four gold Paralympic medals in sprinting.
Right now, Jason is preparing to defend his titles at this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio in September and is also hopeful he may be selected to participate in the Olympic Games the month before. “Setting my sights high keeps me focused and drives me each day to improve,” he says. “I want to be the very best and show others that there are no limits to what can be achieved.”
A lifelong member of the Church, Jason is already the best at what he does. Following his 100-metre, 10.22-second victory at the London Paralympics in 2012, he was named “the fastest Paralympian on the planet,” and he has also been described as “one of the most technically gifted sprinters alive.” Excellence at this level does not come without a price. Prior to moving to London from his native Derry, Northern Ireland, Jason’s training took place in Florida, and he could be away from family and friends for up to eight months a year. Even now, his training involves much sacrifice. “If I want to socialise with family or friends, I have to constantly ask myself how it will impact on my training,” he explains. “The discipline I have to maintain is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
So what drives this young husband and father, who also serves as Young Men president in his ward, to pursue his dream so relentlessly? “As a member of the Church I understand that we are all sons and daughters of God with huge potential,” he says. “I’ve been given a talent and feel a responsibility to achieve the best that I can and to be an inspiration to others. I believe anything is possible if you’re willing to work at it.”
On his recently launched website—www.jasonsmyth.ie—Jason talks on video about his successes and his hopes for the future and gives an insight into what it is like to be a professional athlete. Unlike other professions, athletes do not get paid for what they do. He relies on government grants and sponsorships to pay for his coach, treatments, travel, accommodation, training camps and other general living costs.
Despite the hardships and the sacrifices, Jason finds joy and fulfilment in what he does, and his faith has played a key part in how he views his life and career. “Who I am as a person is because of my faith. It gives me a greater perspective of what is important in life, as well as an inner strength that motivates me to do better.”
Jason feels a responsibility to inspire others, and this he certainly does.