As people, we are capable of unbelievable achievements. What motivates us?
Setting goals – achieving goals
Sports therapy is an important approach in the rehabilitation of people with a spinal cord injury. Targeted sports therapy measures are used with the aim of improving body image and increasing coordination and fitness. Carsten Gugel is a sports therapist at the Swiss Paraplegic Centre. He trains people with a spinal cord injury from as early on as possible during initial rehabilitation, and was also Mirjam Schmidlin’s sports therapist.
The story of Mirjam Schmidlin
“In July 2020 I was looking forward to my long-awaited holidays and to what was due to happen afterwards. In April I’d moved to a new shared apartment and had also handed in my notice at work so that after the holidays I could start work as a therapeutic instructor at two different schools. Everything was sorted out. But it didn't happen like that. On that holiday I had a paragliding accident.
Which meant that, instead, I spent six months in initial rehabilitation at the Swiss Paraplegic Centre. When I came round and heard the diagnosis of paraplegia, I thought: “Is there anything I can still do?” Over time I realised that many things were still possible. I saw it as an opportunity to design my life and my encounters more mindfully. In sports therapy I learnt to overcome obstacles and to practise day-to-day situations in a realistic way. I started to gain confidence in the fact that I would be able to master day-to-day life. That was my path towards independence.”
In 2018 and 2019, Manuela Schär took part in six of the world’s largest marathons. In Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City, the Swiss athlete competed against the world’s best wheelchair athletes in the battle to win the marathon series. As the first wheelchair athlete in the history of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, Manuela Schär dominated every single race, thus winning the series.
Podium for winners in a wheelchair
As it is not practicable for wheelchair users to get up onto a winners’ podium, Wheelchair Sport Switzerland, which is part of the Swiss Paraplegics Association, found a solution for the medal ceremony at wheelchair sports competitions. To ensure that the hard-won medals can be awarded with as much style as they are to able-bodied athletes, Wheelchair Sport Switzerland had a winners’ podium with ramps constructed. Each ramp leads to a podium at a different level for first, second and third place. The three levels are reached via ramps with various angles of inclination. The incline is 5.6% for first place, 7.8% for second place, and 3.9% for third place. The ramp is made of aluminium and consists of eleven individual components that are simple to join together. This means that it can be used for wheelchair sports competitions all over Switzerland. In the case of team competitions, it is even possible to fit four wheelchair athletes onto each podium step. The podium was used for the first time at the Junior World Championships in Nottwil in August 2019 and replaced an earlier solution made of wood.
Very few people are aware of the fact that a spinal cord injury means much more than being in a wheelchair. It results in momentous turning points in the life of people with a spinal cord injury. The loss of mobility, no longer being able to walk, maybe only having limited use of your arms are one aspect of it. The loss of bladder and bowel functions, sexual functions, sensory functions and other things are another.
Sport is extremely important for people with a spinal cord injury from their rehabilitation phase onwards. In sports therapy, people with a spinal cord injury work on their motor skills and improve their mental strength. In terms of preventing disease, regular exercise is even more significant for wheelchair users than for able-bodied people.
The Wheelchair Sport Switzerland section of the Swiss Paraplegics Association is committed to facilitating wheelchair sports from the junior category to the elite category.
More than 120 sports offers are available in the 27 wheelchair clubs across Switzerland:
On 4 December 2019, the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation opened a roller training hall for elite, recreational and junior athletes on the Nottwil Campus. This is where wheelchair racing and hand bike athletes of all ages have access to optimal training conditions, in particular in during the winter and wet weather. The new training location is also an attractive place for encounters and encourages discussions between athletes. The training hall was developed under the project management of Orthotec, a subsidiary of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation, and provides training rollers for twenty racing wheelchairs and twelve hand bikes, a performance measurement station, and a workshop so that it is simple for athletes to adjust or repair their training equipment themselves. The roll-under electronic column lift for wheelchairs in the workshop is a special construction that was devised and installed by Orthotec. Construction work on the roller training hall started in spring 2019. Financing was guaranteed by earmarked donations and rounded-up membership fees from benefactors. The project was backed by two well-known personalities: Federal Counsellor Viola Amherd and Swiss tennis player Roger Federer.
“I am delighted about the construction of this training hall in Nottwil, which will give our athletes with spinal cord injuries the opportunity to prepare optimally for the Paralympics in Tokyo, while at the same time allowing us to present a fantastic image of our Swiss athletes across all sporting disciplines in Tokyo.” Federal Councillor Viola Amherd, Head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS)
“I welcome the construction of this training hall in Nottwil, which will allow my sporting colleagues with spinal cord injuries to prepare optimally for the Paralympics in Tokyo, and which will provide recreational and top-ranking athletes with a spinal cord injury with the opportunity to train under good conditions in winter, too.” Roger Federer, Swiss tennis player