We chat to Access magazine’s June/July cover star – personal trainer, actor and model Jack Eyers – about his passion for fitness, playing soldiers on-screen and how he ended up a rope at the Paralympics opening ceremony…
Can you tell us about your condition?
I was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency. It meant my right femur didn’t grow, so I had one leg shorter than the other. It was also caused a deformity in my hip, and meant that my knee joint was completely shot. I walked with a straight leg and had to use a prosthetic because of the height differential.
What first got you interested in physical fitness?
I’ve always been fairly well built up top. When I was kid everyone else would be riding their normal bikes and I had a handcycle, which I obviously pedalled with my hands, so I had quite big shoulders from a young age. I used to give people lifts on my back and all sorts!
When I was around 15, I was allowed to use the school gym while the rest of the class played football during PE, and started weight training. Because I was in and out of hospital quite a lot and have dyslexia, I’m not particularly academic – but when I was in the gym, I’d see actual results and started learning things, which really motivated me.
What does your daily exercise regime typically involve?
I used to play a lot of wheelchair basketball, so everything I did was very strong and very powerful, with quick explosive movements that would allow me to get up and down the court as quickly as possible – it was very sports-specific, training certain muscle groups.
I’m now more focused on fitness modelling, on getting shape and definition, which is a completely different thing. I target particular muscles to get definition and contours all over the body and do less weights, but higher reps.
What made you decide to become a personal trainer?
After I left school I went to college and studied art and design. I had elective surgery to have my leg amputated above the knee when I was 16, halfway through my first year, and became a bit lost as to what I wanted to do and where I wanted to progress with my career.
But I was still very motivated by fitness, so I thought I’d go and work in a gym. I got my Level 2, which is general fitness instructing and teaching people how to use machines and things, but then I wanted to push to Level 3, personal training. That meant teaching people on a one-to-one basis, building my own client base and becoming self-employed. I’ve been qualified now for around three years.
What sort of clients do you have?
I’d say 70% of my clients are females wanting to lose weight. I get a lot of guys that either want to do sports-specific training – perhaps they’re looking to run a marathon – or lose weight before they go on holiday, but I’m also training a couple of amputees, which is more the direction I want to go in.
What sort of considerations are there when physically training someone who is an amputee?
It depends on the type of amputation – if it’s an arm amputation, when working the upper body you’re going to end up with imbalanced muscles, resulting in bad posture, a bad spine, back ache and other problems. If it’s a lower body amputation then there can obviously be major balance issues, and if there are one of each – maybe a leg and an arm – then that’s a whole different ball game again.
You also need to think about how these men or women have become amputees. They might have some underlying injury you’ve got to be aware of, or possibly weak joints. It’s a massive challenge, but I’m a big believer in the benefits of pushing yourself.
When you become an amputee, you’re reborn. If you lose a leg, you have to learn to walk again; lose an arm and you’ve got to learn to tie your shoelaces again. You’re basically a kid again. As a child, it’s acceptable for you to fall over or be clumsy when trying to do things. As an adult amputee, you can be seen as vulnerable.
Exercise is a really good way to test your motor skills, balance, hand eye co-ordination and everything else.
How much attention do you have to pay to your diet?
It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. At the moment, my diet is high in protein and high in fats, but the good stuff. As I’m trying to lose body fat, I’ve cut out carbohydrates.
It’s really important to live a lifestyle where you’d naturally choose the healthy option, say, if you were to eat out. You’ve still got to be able to treat yourself and stay happy as a person, so every now and then I will have a pizza or a beer, just not all the time.
It can be hard to eat healthily when you’re on the road a lot, but just this morning I was cooking for an hour, making all my food for today and tomorrow, because I know I’ll be busy. It’s all about being organised, keeping control and staying disciplined.
How long have you been involved in acting?
When I was about seven I went through quite a rough patch, being down about my mates going off and playing football – I’d try and join them, but would end up in a lot of pain. I was getting concerned about my future, even at that age. I was aware that I wasn’t allowed to join the army and do the things I wanted to do.
I was at the limb centre one day, and my prosthetist introduced me to this guy called Louis, who was born pretty much the same as me – he even chose to have his leg amputated at 16 – who called himself a ‘one-legged stuntman’. He’d spend time on a beach getting blown up for Saving Private Ryan, and showed me all these pictures of things he’d done. He was a big inspiration and made me realise that just because I was disabled, I didn’t have to be restricted – that I could actually live a fulfilled life and do what I wanted to do.
He then introduced me to an agent who got me a part in short disability awareness film called Talk, which was my first job.
What have been your most memorable acting jobs or roles to date?
Definitely the advert I did for Barclays. It was two days filming, and I got great publicity and exposure from it. I’d be in the gym teaching my clients and every now and then this advert would come up on the TV – other people in the gym would turn round and say ‘Hey, that’s you!’ It was shown on prime time, between things like Big Brother.
Do you find yourself cast in certain roles more than others?
If I’m booked to be an extra in a film, it’s usually something to do with the army – I’ve kind of been stereotyped now as ‘injured soldier’. I also work with an agency called Amputees in Action, where we actually work alongside the real army, doing lots of casualty simulations and things as part of their training, and also for the civilian emergency services.
You were also part of a cabaret-style rope act at the 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony – was that a skill you were already familiar with, or something you had to learn from scratch?
I had never done anything like it before. At the time, I was playing wheelchair basketball at quite a high level and was on the GB team, but unfortunately I didn’t make it to the Paralympics squad – so I thought the next best thing would be to get involved in the opening ceremony.
It was a big casting, with about three or four tests we had to go through, looking at how we were with heights and things. For one of them I was in a harness about 35m in the air, which is pretty high!
I was lucky enough to get to the final stage and moved to London for four months, learning with a circus school performer. I’d never even climbed a rope before, but I made it through the final and ended up performing this rope act for about seven minutes – that’s a long time to be up a rope!
Breakfast (And Lunch And Dinner) of Champions
Here’s what a typical day’s menu for Jack looks like…
Porridge oats with a handful of nuts and a scoop of chocolate whey protein
Rice, chicken, peas and spinach
Rice, chicken, peas and spinach
Two scoops of whey protein and a banana (post workout)
Sweet potato, salmon and broccoli
2 scoops of casein protein