Heldenstaffel: Dealing with crises by running

We’ve all had personal crises in our lives. I’ve had plenty of them in mine, and they’ve required me to overcome quite a few hurdles. These crises included the loss of vision in my left eye, the breakup with my wife, and the “collapse” of my dreams in the field of sports.

Life can be very tough. That’s why I began early on to look for alternatives and strategies that would allow me to analyze and, if possible, overcome such crises. Today I would like to present an alternative related to the following newspaper headline from nine years ago:

Marathon runner Steffen Häntzschel from Esslingen has a lofty goal: `’I want to run for Germany.’

That was the headline of a report about me. Back then, I had lots of dreams and goals in life. I dreamed of competing for the European championships, and I trained doggedly twice a day to make this dream come true.

I was a relative latecomer to this sport. Although I ran 1,000 meters in less than three minutes in sixth grade, I didn’t see any real sense in running at that time and I preferred to hang out with my friends and play soccer.

I didn’t begin to train seriously and regularly until I was 21, when I discovered the therapeutic value of running. For example, running lets me come to terms with the accident that blinded me in my left eye.

In 2009, I was the third-fastest German athlete in the Frankfurt Marathon. When I ran into the city’s Festhalle arena ahead of Dieter Baumann, a winner of the 5,000-meter race at the Olympics, I started dreaming even bigger dreams and working even harder to reach my goals.

As a result of these experiences, I now know that the cost of this overly ambitious goal was too high. My body and my psyche couldn’t keep up the pace, and I’ve had to travel a very painful path since then. I began to train more and more. I ran more than 200 kilometers per week, which didn’t leave me enough time to recuperate. I suffered the consequences in 2011, when my own body forced me to stop. As a result, I could no longer run, sit, or even lie down without feeling pain. The torture was immense, because I had damaged both of my hips.

Taking the first steps again was liberating

I then had several operations, but for a long time I failed to find the right doctors. My life plunged into a severe crisis. Not until last spring did I feel I was getting the right medical care. I had another operation, which turned out to be successful. I began to run again. It was liberating. Simply indescribable.

I now run regularly once again. I run three times a week. I can run 20 kilometers without any problems and, more importantly, without any pain. My ordeal ended last fall, after six years of extreme torture. I used to be a runner, and now I can call myself a runner once again. Running is a form of therapy for me. It gets me grounded in a way that works instantly. I look back on my former ambitions and aspirations very critically. It was a big mistake to overdo my training the way I did.

Every crisis makes me stronger

I don’t want to talk about my private life here, but instead to describe a method that can help people cope with personal crises. I want to write about my experiences and my personal path from competitive sports back to a normal life because I deal with my previous crises very openly, and I think this gives me an opportunity to motivate and support my colleagues.

Everybody is unique, but I know that every crisis has made me stronger and has helped to shape my personality. That has also enabled me to address professional challenges and goals — no matter how great or ambitious they are — and to take on full responsibility for them.

Many people know that they have to exercise in order to lead a healthy life, but they can’t motivate themselves often enough over the long term to do sports regularly. That’s why the AOK-Heldenstaffel program was launched in order to help motivate people to get moving.

This program was inspired by my friend Michael Klotzbier, who is also its public representative. To win a bet, Klotzbier lost almost 80 kilograms in just two years and was able to run the Berlin Marathon on his 37th birthday.

If you’d like to share your enthusiasm for sports with us, I encourage you to take part in the Heldenstaffel program as well.

Steffen Häntzschel is working for the Project Future FC Landscape in the team 'Business Architektur, Prozesse, Methoden' and has several responsibilities at the IT-department.