Not making happiness dependent on external circumstances or other people and believing that the best is yet to come – that is Silke Pan's recipe for success. After an accident on the trapeze and the temporary end of her career as an artist, the Bonn-born athlete took her new life into her own hands. After a successful career as a para-athlete and countless kilometers on a handbike, Pan has returned to her roots – acrobatics. What the sport is an expression of, why she would like to ride on the back of a lucky dragon from literature and how she rolls otherwise, she told us at REHACARE.com.
Name: Silke Pan Age: 48 City: Aigle, Switzerland Occupation: Para-artist, former handbike athlete (among others Vice World Champion and European Champion) Impairment: After a fall from the trapeze, I broke my 10th and 11th spinal vertebrae and found myself paraplegic.
Silke Pan: A successful day for me is when I was able to do the work I set out to do with confidence and in a cheerful mood. And what makes my day all the more beautiful is when I see my husband laughing, our dog radiating joie de vivre and I see that there are many happy people despite difficult circumstances.
Which auxiliary means or daily living aids are indispensable for you?
Silke Pan: I have been using the wheelchair for more than 13 years now – and all that such paraplegia entails. In addition to the wheelchair, I need an adapted car, a stair lift to get into my apartment, and daily care products such as the bladder catheters and so on.
What would you like to see from society and your fellow people in dealing with people with disabilities?
Silke Pan: I wish for compassion, unbiasedness and empathy.
I have noticed that many people do not know how to behave towards a person with disabilities. I always appreciate it when someone offers me their help, even if I don't necessarily need it right now. The gesture is the most important thing and if someone doesn't know how to tackle to be able to help, then this person should be allowed to express it openly without getting any criticism or attack from the disabled person (which unfortunately sometimes happens).
What has been your biggest challenge so far that you have mastered – and what has helped you?
Silke Pan: My biggest challenge was never giving up after the accident and never losing heart.
I have expressed this attitude through my various sporting ventures: the major competitions with the handbike, as well as the collaboration to develop the TWIICE exoskeleton. Then my tours with a total of already over 80 mountain passes crossed with the handbike, as well as 30 lakes in my 1,000-kilometer ultra-paratriathlon. These were all sporting highlights that have made me grow inside. And since 2020, my return to artistry when, after 13 years of paraplegia, I discovered a technique that now allows me to balance on my hands again. With this, I built a new performance and got an engagement in the circus.
What has helped me in this? My belief that life has many beautiful surprises in store for each of us, as long as we are willing to look forward, constantly improve, and take on even demanding tasks.
My husband also contributed a lot to me doing all these things. He often made suggestions to me and thought I was capable of doing them. I didn't want to disappoint him and that strengthened my willpower.
What can the assistive technology industry learn from the Corona pandemic to make life easier and/or better for people with disabilities in the future?
Silke Pan: I ask myself the same question and it is not easy for me to find a suitable answer.
Technology in the field of disability tries to give people more independence, autonomy and means for self-determination. The pandemic locks people in their homes, which creates quite the opposite. I think that because of this, many people affected have fewer prospects and sometimes even lose hope.
In these times, it has become even more important that even people with disabilities can have access to the internet and the digital world. Nowadays, this is often the only way to have any social contact. But not everyone can move their hands freely, not everyone has enough vision or concentration to be able to solve such tasks independently. This is where the development of technology could be helpful.
In a broader sense, the corona crisis makes us aware again of how important our health is and that each individual can do something for it. Health is something holistic, it takes place in the body as well as in the mind.
If nothing would be impossible: Who would you like to meet one day and why?
Silke Pan: Then I would like to meet Falkor, the luck dragon from the "Neverending Story" by Michael Ende. Together we would fly over this world and give people back their abilities to love and dream. Falkor would teach us the language of joy and hope.
I live in Switzerland and received care at the Swiss Paraplegic Center after my accident. Whether here or there, it is pleasant to know where you can find help when you need it.
What else I wanted to say ...
Silke Pan: In the case of a disability, disease or other difficulty that limits and saddens us, we should remain aware that the source of joy in life is not to be found in external circumstances, nor in any other person. We will find the answers to our problems if we listen to the voice of our heart and dare to take the path that corresponds to our dreams, even if it does not seem feasible at first.
When you are on the path of life that is right for you, everything will fall into place and doors will open as if by themselves. Believe in the miracle and the magic power of life!