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My Fate

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Just imagine the following situation:

 

You wake up in hospital, looking down your bed sheet and you only have one leg left. My world collapsed. All my dreams destroyed. Up to that day, I was a true sports-fanatic and my life was perfect…I would switch to Fortuna Cologne and become a professional soccer player!

 

On September 15th, 2001 in the last match for my non-professional club, VfR Grünstadt, I was entirely happy that I will soon become a player in the third division. But on the other side it hurt to leave behind my teammates and my coach who advanced me a lot.

 

We played against the team of Niederauerbach. Shortly after the half-time break, someone squared a long ball to me, I sprinted after the ball into the eighteen-yard area…When I realized that the ball was out of reach and the goalkeeper was faster, I tried to hop over him – but he hit me directly with his outstretched leg and at full tilt on my knee. I will never forget this moment.

 

The ambulance was called immediately and as early as that, the first mistakes were made. Everything what could possibly break in my knee, it was broken. My foot was pulseless. The paramedics didn't notice that, otherwise they would have directly call a doctor. I was brought to the hospital in Grünstadt where they diagnosed the severe injury – compartment syndrome! This means that from the knee down nothing was supplied with blood.

 

This injury had to be operated within 6 hours or the whole tissues in my leg would die and the leg would need to be amputated. In Grünstadt, there was no vascular surgeon available at the time so they brought me to Kaiserslautern. But in Kaiserslautern they were occupied due to another emergency case. After two hours they told my father that it would be better to bring me to the University hospital in Homburg where there could be a vascular surgeon available.

 

Until today I do not know if I was really operated by a vascular surgeon. At around 3:45 p.m. the goalkeeper hit me and at 1 a.m. I underwent surgery – much too late to save my leg.

 

After one week in Homburg I moved to a hospital in Mainz because I realized that doctors in Homburg were unable to cope with my situation. In Mainz, the doctors gave their best and they cared about me. But after one week, the leg was necrotic from the knee down and the only hard step that remained for them was the amputation.

 

The rehab 

In the period that followed I didn’t know what to do with my life. Thanks to competent doctors in Mainz, I came to a rehab clinic near Augsburg where I was introduced to Roberto Simonazzi! He worked together with an orthopaedic technician who every amputee would wish to have on their side – Herbert Ganter. These two guys succeeded in bringing me back on track and I will appreciate it for my entire lifetime. Herbert’s prostheses are great – they fit perfectly! The rehab period was very important for me. There I learnt how to deal with my handicap in the daily life. The most important thing is not to see oneself as kind of an ‘alien’ but to accept one’s handicap and not to be ashamed of it. I did not turn into another person. I’m the same person I was before, and I have become a bit calmer due to the incident. Now I think differently about certain things, because you can influence your own fate!

​The way back to success

 

One of my big dreams was to enter a stadium full people shouting my name and celebrating the goal I just made. This was one reason why I wanted to become a professional soccer player. Thanks to Roberto who was a Paralympics silver medal winner in Barcelona 1992, I understood that there was another way to reach my dream. The Paralympics!

 

There was nothing else beating in my heart than the pure motivation to succeed. I didn’t think about winning any medals, I just wanted one thing: enter a full stadium and celebrate with the crowd. I won four gold, one silver and two bronze medals over three Paralympic Games. My dream came true and I was inspired to help other people to accept their situation, move forward and try to catch their dreams, hence another new Journey started with the birth of Sailing4handicaps.

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I met disabled people all around the world gaining a clear idea about the behaviour towards disability in countries like Ukraine, Kenya, India and Thailand. The acceptance of disability and the quality of prosthetic assistance is remarkably different all over the world: disabled people are in fact often stigmatized as ‘lame’, outsiders without prospects, and there is a lack of support, comprehension and professionality in handling disability. Parents are often ashamed of their own children, and presumably not able to be productive for the family general health.

 

I have worked with families and showed them how much disabled people can change their outlook and lives to a more positive one. Handicapped people are able to do great things when they are given the opportunities and the conditions to. As a result of my experiences, I sailed all over the world together with my wife Elena Brambilla (also an athlete) to help build people up, as well as work with and maintain prosthetics. We established a foundation, Sailing4handicaps, with the aim of giving disabled people all over the world a new opportunity for life. Sailing4handicaps has performed a half circumnavigation on board of a catamaran. We brought on a specialised crew, prosthetic fittings, medical equipment, technical support, knowledge and assistance about the use of prosthetics and catered for the abilities of the disabled, which opened up new prospects for all these people and their families.

We supported around 90 people with a prosthetic leg and established help inland to get repairs done. It was one of the best times in our lives - if there would ever be a chance to move around again we would do it!

 

During this journey we also discovered a big love for the sea and it was sad to see that so many amputees feel unsecure in the water. Once again, I felt like I had to do something for them. We were always thinking about the fact that not only a prosthetic is necessary to bring you back on your legs, but also the feeling of being independent and responsible. I wanted to show amputees that this is possible everywhere in the world. I became a certified PADI Diving instructor and taught people from all over the world. I also thought about competition and the ability to be a role model in new fields. Thanks to scuba diving, I fell in love with freediving, which only needed fins, mask, and a snorkel. I love the feeling of being down on the bottom of the sea and enjoying a moment of pure peace. 

 

I started to think about how deep I could dive as an amputee and investigated if there was a world record for amputees. Guess what? No World Records…not until I set 5 of them! Contact me to learn more!

sailing4hadicaps

It was one of the best times in our lives!

We supported around 90 People with a prosthetic leg and establish help on the islands to get repairs done. 

If there would ever be a chance to move on again, than we would certainly do it.

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Freediving

Freediving  CMAS World Records in my handicap discipline, including:

Constant weight Bi-fins: 50 meters/164 feet

Constant weight Monofin: 45 meters/147 feet

Free Immersion: 45 meters/147 feet

Dynamic Apnea Monofin:  117 meters/383 feet

Dynamic apnea Bifin: 110 meters/360 feet

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       What's next?

Project Wojtek 2024

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