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Sometimes when I close my eyes I can already see myself in Tokyo. The stadium is packed, there’s thunderous applause, fireworks burst in the sky, and above me the German flag is fluttering in a gentle evening breeze. This vision gives me goosebumps!
I have had to use a wheelchair ever since I’m five years old. But I don’t regard that as a reason to avoid strenuous activities. On the contrary, I’m a successful wheelchair tennis player and have high-flying ambitions. My goal is to participate in the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.
But I still have a long way to go before I reach that point. To achieve that, I train every day at the Grünweiß Baumschulenweg tennis club or the Zehlendorfer Wespen tennis club — these are the only two barrier-free tennis clubs in Berlin.
A shared fate and the same passion
I’m accompanied by my twin brother Max, with whom I share not only my physical limitations but also the apartment we live in. And both of us are dreaming of participating in the Paralympic Games. Best of all, we’d like to compete for medals in both singles and doubles tournaments.
Max is even slightly better than me, and he has already been counted among the world’s top 20 players. I was a finalist in the USIF Swedish Open in Uppsala. That has been my biggest success so far — even though I narrowly lost in the final round. I participate in up to ten competitions every year.
Sports help me cope with my illness. When my brother and I were three years old, we were diagnosed with multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, a bone growth disorder. It’s a very rare disease, and it affects only a dozen people in Germany. Our legs didn’t grow normally, and we were much shorter than other children.
Later on we developed such severe pain in our legs that we could no longer walk. We had to undergo surgery in a hospital every six months. They would often tell us:
Okay, that was it, this time you’ll be able to walk again!
But then we had to have the next operation, and once again we started at zero, with no muscle strength and non-functioning legs. All of this was very frustrating, and I don’t know how we could have gotten through it without our parents’ support.
When I started to use a wheelchair, everyday situations such as negotiating a curb became challenges. My twin brother and I practiced getting around in our wheelchairs and jumping around on our rear wheels in the garden. In the beginning we often failed and fell out of our wheelchairs, but today we are real specialists when it comes to these skills. This is how we regained our mobility in daily life, step by step.
Yes, I was sitting in a wheelchair. But why should I retreat into my shell for the rest of my life while other people are having fun and enjoying their lives? After I had “normalized” my daily life, my mother found a tennis club for wheelchair users online. I thought to myself, just go ahead and try it out! I had already been athletic in my early childhood, and among other things I had played table tennis. After I had whacked my first tennis ball, I knew: This is the world’s greatest sport! That happened 14 years ago.
Basically, wheelchair tennis functions in just the same way as traditional tennis. The only difference between the two is that the ball is allowed to bounce twice before you hit it back. Initially it was a huge challenge to use a wheelchair and play tennis at the same time. And because the court is relatively big, I really had to make an effort to cover the whole court — especially because a served ball might be flying across the net at a speed of 200 kilometers per hour.
But you quickly learn how to maneuver your wheelchair more skillfully and position yourself strategically. The thing I like best about tennis is that you can really watch yourself getting better. And the harder you train, the more you are rewarded. Through tennis I started to once again feel that I had my life under control.
Of course I sometimes have days when it’s hard to get motivated. But after all, everybody who does sports feels that way sometimes. You simply have some bad patches along with the good ones. For me, a typical day begins at 6 a.m. I do my training between 7 and 9 a.m., and then I directly go to work. That requires a lot of self-discipline. But whenever I think about competition, it’s like an addiction — I want to compare my performance with that of others and show what I can do.
Wheelchair tennis is an expensive sport. So far I’ve only found a few sponsors, and I have to pay for my training hours out of my own pocket. And I also have to pay for my sports wheelchair. A new one costs €8,000, but my health insurance company only pays for my normal wheelchair, and of course you can’t use it for playing tennis. That’s why I’m tremendously grateful to the Mercedes-Benz Bank, where I’m a working student, for helping me buy a new sports wheelchair. In general, I’m very happy that here I have the opportunity to combine work, sports, and my business administration studies.
“I’m not looking for any excuses, and I always look to the future!”
Sports, my family, and my friends help me to completely forget that I’m sitting in a wheelchair. I’m not looking for any excuses for my situation, and I always look to the future. I think that if you’re constantly looking for excuses, you’ll never find out how much you can achieve.
And I’d like to achieve a lot more in my life — including achievements as an athlete. For example, in a packed stadium in Tokyo, with thunderous applause and fireworks in the evening sky.