Parasports in the time of Coronavirus – a case of postponed plans, mental fitness, and a forced slow-down
Parasports in the time of Coronavirus – a case of postponed plans, mental fitness, and a forced slow-down
Firsts, last times, first and maybe last times or once-in-a-lifetime moments – the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo could have been all of these things and more for German athletes. But for the time being, they will have to do without these very personal moments. David Behre, Christiane Reppe and Hans-Peter Durst spoke to REHACARE.com about their original plans and preparations for the Paralympics, reveal the goals they had set for themselves and explain how they cope with the current situation.
Christiane Reppe was aiming for a podium finish in the Para Triathlon in Tokyo. A discipline in which she immediately felt very much at home after she had competed in the first competitions in 2018.
Christiane Reppe was hoping that all good things come in threes – this would have been her fifth time at the Paralympics and this time she would have switched to a different type of sport. With her most recent successes as a paracyclist, the athlete planned to compete in a new discipline in Tokyo: after two bronze medals and three Paralympics as a competitive swimmer, she wanted to follow up her 2016 gold medal on the road handbike with a medal in triathlon this year. To make sure that her medal dreams in a third discipline come true, the native of Dresden planned for everything and left nothing to chance.
That meant that apart from a handbike, she also needed a racing wheelchair as this is the third discipline in the Paratriathlon. "From my handcycle days, I knew that Wolturnus makes excellent customized handcycles that are lightweight with an aerodynamic design. When I considered companies for my racing wheelchair, I instantly thought of them," says the triathlete. "Initially I only had a racing wheelchair made for me," adds Reppe. But by now, the Danish manufacturer has become more than just her racing wheelchair supplier. "We wanted to get to know each other first before we considered a full sponsorship contract. Yet by the end of 2019, we decided that we would embark on this journey together for the next years!"
It’s great to have good equipment but you also have to know how to use it. Paralympian athlete Marcel Hug from Switzerland is currently the best wheelchair racing competitor in the world and gave Reppe tips on finding the right gloves and revealed pointers on the proper technique. The rest was down to meticulous preparation. Something that Reppe was already intimately familiar with thanks to her lengthy career in sports. After the 32-year-old started missing the spark for handcycle racing, she found renewed passion when she switched her focus to the triathlon. It didn’t take long for her to be successful: After making it onto the podium at World Cups in Portugal, Australia and Canada, she instantly finished third at the 2019 Para Triathlon World Championships in Lausanne (Switzerland). A short two weeks later, the para-athlete was crowned European Champion in Valencia (Spain).
Because of these successes, Reppe had her eye on a medal in Tokyo. "If everything goes perfectly on Day X and I can cope with the difficult conditions on site, anything is possible." She had a full schedule for the 2020 season. Besides training sessions, several competitions were on her agenda to test her shape. In addition to the Paralympics, Reppe also had her sights set on the middle distance triathlon race. This, in turn, was meant to be the stepping stone to achieving her big dream – participating in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. When asked which dream is the bigger one, Reppe admits: "That’s a difficult question to answer. Both are equally appealing and since I want to fulfill both, I might as well make both dreams come true at the same time!" There is no shortage of ambitious goals for this athlete. Still, after all her successes in parasports, she has adopted a more relaxed mindset. "I enjoy my time to the fullest because I am fully aware that these will be my last years in competitive sports."
Sprinter David Behre wanted to attack again, as here in a video shoot for one of his partners 2020. The prosthesis runner has now postponed his career end until 2021.
David Behre and his postponed farewell
These were supposed to be the last Games for David Behre. The athlete planned to say farewell to his active career in Tokyo. While Christiane Reppe barely had to deal with sporting setbacks in recent years, the past few years have not been kind to this Paralympic sprint runner and double leg amputee. "The time since the 2016 Rio Olympics was tough. Unfortunately, I missed the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 World Para Athletics European Championship at home in Berlin due to injuries. I had to withdraw from the 2019 World Championships because I got sick while I was there. I had to face a lot of setbacks, but I usually manage to cope quite well. That’s why I was especially motivated to officially end my sporting career in Tokyo in 2020 in front of a large audience." Behre even got used to new prosthetic legs. The International Paralympic Committee changed its rules, making him officially much shorter in height. In doing so, the IPC intends to prevent unfair advantages. For Behre, who is now shorter based on the new height limits than he was before his accident when he had two healthy legs, this was not an easy decision to accept. "The way of measuring was not uniform and did not fully make sense to me," he criticizes. For him, his "new" height meant that he had to get used to new prosthetic legs. "I'm shorter than before, which also makes my steps shorter compared to how they were in Rio in 2016. In the Men’s 400 meters, my best event in Rio, that would definitely be a disadvantage," says the 33-year-old. That’s why the athlete decided some time ago that he would only participate in the 100 meter dash in Tokyo. Given the shorter distance, he hopes to prevent injuries that have perpetually slowed him down in recent years: "The risk of physical strain and sprains in training (400-meter run; editor's note) is massive and too much at my age."
Behre was able to count on the team from APT Prothesen to fit and customize his new prosthetic running legs. After all, the optimal fit of the prosthetic device is crucial to achieve the best performance. "Imagine you have a pebble in your shoe that you feel with every step, every day. A properly fitted prosthesis means quality of life for those affected. And that takes experts who are deeply entrenched in the subject. That's what APT stands for." It's no secret that the blade runner subscribes to the philosophy of the Rhineland-Palatinate-based company. After all, Behre is – among other things – a brand ambassador. Not surprisingly, the Duisburg native wants to increase his involvement with APT after the Paralympics and the end of this career. Behre also wants to ramp up his role as a motivational speaker at the same time. "You might say that after my career I want to pass my blessings in life on to others: a proper running technique and the right mindset and attitude." He also says that he wouldn’t mind taking on another role in sports because he feels he owes a lot to the Paralympic movement.
But before this all was to happen down the road, his primary focus was Tokyo and the training and competitions leading up to the event. But when his training camp in South Africa was cut short in early March and he had to return to Germany, Behre had to rethink his game plan: "I decided to extend my career by one more year. I hope that the Tokyo Games will take place in 2021 and that I will be able to say – a postponed – goodbye to sports in an amazing venue."
Para cyclist Hans-Peter Durst (middle) is happy to have a strong team around him. Currently, the six-time World Champion in the individual time trial is keeping fit with a health maintenance plan.
Hans-Peter Durst: "An athlete is only as good as his team"
As is the case for Behre, these would have been the third Paralympic Games for nine-time para cycling world champion Hans-Peter Durst. He had also planned to make these his last official races. When the oldest member of Team Germany Paralympics thinks about this fact in training, he gets "goose bumps when we visualize certain sections of the race." That’s why there was a lot of anticipation in Dortmund as everyone looked forward to this major sporting event. The athlete had also effectively coped with his minor health setbacks, as evidenced by his successes at the 2019 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Emmen. Durst's focus then turned to the Para Cycling Road World Cup in Oostende in early June in the Netherlands. The idea was to test his shape one more time before packing his bag and bike and head for Tokyo. But before the official announcement was made that the Paralympics had been postponed, Durst had already deliberated with his family and team and decided to not participate in the Games.
The man from Dortmund currently takes steps to maintain his health: along with his team of trainers, he has created a plan to exercise both his physical and mental health. Besides a healthy diet, this also includes yoga. "As soon as the first competitions are being announced, we can press the button and immediately start preparations." The cyclist is happy to rely on his strong team even in this situation. "As an athlete with a disability, I am very happy and grateful that so many wonderful partners and sponsors have unceasingly shared my commitment and fascination with tricycles. An athlete is only as good as his team – success is not sustainable if you are on your own," says Durst.
Besides his family, friends and his team of trainers, he puts his trust in equipment made by Ralf Bohle GmbH – doing business as Schwalbe. "I know I am in excellent hands with them and always have the best material and most innovative product on the road." The para-cyclist also credits the tire specialist with helping him be among the best in the world. "We are all about rolling resistance, aerodynamics and safety," says Durst. The family-owned company are experts in these areas.
Staying fit during the delay
The DBS athlete was in training camp to get in shape for the end of his career when the global pandemic also altered his plans. Thanks to two trips and time spent in a risk area, Hans-Peter Durst was directly quarantined at home. The athlete used this time to help his region. He plans to use and share his cycling knowledge with others after his athletic career is over. "There’s so much to do, especially when it comes to the DBS and the BRSNW (Disabled and Rehabilitation Sports Association of North Rhine-Westphalia). My goal is to play a bigger part in fostering fairness and forward-looking structures." He is also an ambassador for several foundations that are very near and dear to his heart because of his own traumatic brain injury. He also plans to renew his commitment as a motivational therapist, speaker, and peer, which is now a more manageable endeavor as his busy schedule often prevented him from doing this in the past.
His experience as a motivational therapist will help the soon-to-be 62-year-old in his current situation. After all, nobody can predict if and when there will be competitions again in the near future. For athletes like David Behre, this means he predominantly embarks on strength and stabilization training at home. Because for runners with prosthetic legs, a surface other than a tartan track puts too much strain on the body and can be very dangerous. Christiane Reppe has reduced her training load to two-thirds of her former program. She has set up an in-home workout room where she uses her handcycle and racing wheelchair via her indoor bike trainer. Right now, she also needs a special permit to enter the weight room at her club. However, the athlete does not believe that she will get to train in a swimming pool in the foreseeable future.
That being said, Reppe also sees the positive side-effects of this time, which is forcing us to slow down our lives: "For the past few years, I've constantly been on the road. I went from training camp to competition and back to training camp again. I rarely had time to unpack my suitcase at home before I had to start the entire process all over again. If you are willing to filter out the positive aspects of this crisis and stop seeing only the negative facets, it allows you to embrace and better handle the current stressful situation."