From water to land – Christiane Reppe has given up her long career as a competitive swimmer to successfully ride towards excellence with a handcycle after taking a brieftime out. REHACARE.com spoke with her about old and new achievements, the difference in the disciplines and the Rio Paralympics of course.
Ms. Reppe, for a long time you were an active competitive swimmer. What is your favorite success story?
Christiane Reppe: I started training when I was twelve years old. By 2002, I had already won two bronze medals. In 2006, I went to Berlin and made the conscious decision to train professionally. Since then, I competed three times in the Paralympics. My highlight was definitely the Paralympics in London, even though I wasn’t quite as successful there.
Why did you retire from competitive swimming after the London 2012 Paralympics?
Reppe: Originally, I planned to compete as a swimmer in Rio this year. But then I had some differences with my trainer. Then I moved away from Berlin, didn’t do any sports for a year and really focused on working in my father’s company. But at some point, I realized that it wasn’t fulfilling enough and that sports are simply a part of me. I just didn’t want to swim anymore.
How did you end up getting into competitive sports again – but this time riding a handcycle?
Reppe: I had previously tried out handcycles and read up on the sport. There was a training camp near Freiburg, Germany, I was able to be a part of. I immediately got a used bike there and was introduced to a trainer. I met Errol Marklein from Team Sopur Quickie and three months later I became a part of this very team. During my first competitions, I immediately ended up on the winner’s podium and was even able to qualify for the European Championship. I guess things were simply meant to be that way.
What differences are there for you personally relating to the competitions and training in both disciplines?
Reppe: Training in competitive swimming generally consists of two times two hours in the water as well as lots of dryland and endurance training. When you train in water, you keep taking smaller breaks. This is totally different in handcycling. You have to continuously turn the cranks – sometimes for five hours at a time.
During competitions, one major difference between the two disciplines is that you start as a team in handcycling. I like that a lot. When I swim, I am all by myself in my lane. What’s more, handcycling is also far more strategic: I need to keep an eye on the competition, have to always use my head and generally need to be more tactical in my approach.
How do you generally feel about the public attention the Paralympics and you as an athlete are getting?
Reppe: I think reporting seems to have become more professional, also when it comes to what we athletes give to the press. Having said that, the Olympic Games will definitely always be more important and have top priority. That’s why we need to be proactive and make information available to the press and draw attention to ourselves. At this point, our team has a professional photographer who comes along during the races, for instance, so we are able to provide great photos to the media. On the whole, we all keep learning new things and know that we simply need to promote ourselves better as athletes via social media channels. Plus I think it’s important to not just have coverage of the major events but to also give relatively unknown athletes a platform. And once again the question for the Paralympics is: how much of it will be broadcasted – and above all at what times?
What’s your opinion on talks about combining the Olympics and Paralympics?
Reppe: I am opposed to a merger because it simply would not improve things for us. We would still be in the background. Considering the vast number of competitions, I also wonder how this could be managed in terms of organization. I believe both the Olympic and Paralympic Games deserve their own special time and attention.
Reppe: Gold! (laughs) That’s not even up for discussion! Actually, these are my first Paralympics where a gold medal is truly a realistic goal. In swimming, I usually came in third place but now I have a realistic chance of winning gold in Rio.
How important are competitive sports for you?
Reppe: Sport is a big part of my life. Basically, competitive sports have ruled my entire life for many years. And I don’t want a life without sports. When I sometimes went to the gym during my year-long downtime, I realized that this is not enough for me. I simply need to be in a competitive environment. It’s almost like an addiction to thrill seeking and adrenaline. Once you get the taste of blood and stood on the podium, you always want more.
What impact can sports have?
Reppe: I think sports can help to boost self-confidence in young people and newly injured persons. I participated in the hospital tour by the German Statutory Accident Insurance (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung), DGUV, for instance, and it was great for many people to see what they could become. It gives them hope and encouragement. But it is also very important to communicate that not everyone has to engage in (competitive) sports! There are always many different options. Besides, ultimately it is "just sports". That doesn’t automatically make me a better person. Quite the contrary, I am just a very normal person. What’s important is what you ultimately make of your life.