The text reads, ‘Dude’ followed by an all too familiar link, to the BBC website. But what news is this? What can be so important for our Captain to share to all club members? More importantly, we hadn’t seen, nor heard the phrase ‘Dude’ for such a long time, it could only mean one thing: this is big; drop everything and learn.
‘Christian Haettich has one arm and one leg. Over 22 days this summer he cycled across the Dolomites, the Alps and the Pyrenees to become one of only 10 finishers of a grueling three-week amateur cycling event.’ Writes Callum Robertson on the the BBC news-magazine.
We read how Haetittich recalls how painful it was when he first started:
“I was extremely ill, I thought I would die it was so difficult. I did it every day for 15 days. Pedalling uphill with one leg is hard, it’s just push and pull, if I forget one, I fall. I can laugh about it now but it was very tough.”
The following are highlights from the article and interview taken by Callum Roberston:
Life is like riding a bicycle
He shares his life-changing experience that brought him to nearly ending it all having lived a normal teenage journey, until his life took a different turn. At the age of 15, Haetittich is hit head on by a car and loses both limbs. He says:
“Many things changed for me. It’s not easy ending up disabled for life at 15, especially in 1976. I had to learn how to live again and deal with being stared at. It’s tough being disabled at this age, I was often rejected,” he says. “I must admit that at one time I thought about ending my life.”
It wasn’t until Haetittich hit his 30s that he took up the sport of cycling and inspired by the chance sighting of a man with one leg riding up a mountain encouraged him to try give it a go. The challenge was about to begin.
“I had no balance and fell off many times. I often felt like giving up and moving on to something else. My wife helped me a lot until the day I managed to ride without falling off and from that moment, everything began. It took me almost a year to feel confident but in the end the struggle paid off”
The Olympic Dream
The 2000 Sydney Paralympics signaled another turn in Haettich’s life on the bicycle. He chose to dedicate himself to qualifing for the road race. After months of hard-work and sacrifice he was on the verge of selection when, he says, only 15 days before the games he learned that his category of disability was no longer to be included. He was devastated/ Haetittich quit the Disabled Sport and refocused his efforts to riding sportives – mass-participation events that are open to all cyclists.
“My disability has never prevented me from climbing a pass. It gives me determination and mental strength. I can’t ride any other way, so I don’t have a choice,” he says.
Watch me now
Haettich is never going to be able to climb quickly but on the descents he is astonishingly fast. On one particular descent I was having a good ride and was passing a lot of riders when this figure shot past me. It was Haettich and he must have been travelling at least 10mph (16km/h) faster than I was. Very quickly he disappeared around the next bend and by the time I got there he was out of sight.
“It’s true, I descend skilfully and quickly. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot, and I have to admit, I love descending as much as I love climbing,” he says. “On a descent I am very focused and always look ahead. I certainly descend quickly, but I remain cautious.”
Haettich’s top speed on a descent is an impressive 67mph (107km/h). I wonder what oncoming motorists must make of it when they encounter him…
The Triple Crown
For many riders, like myself, cycling is no more than a hobby. It’s a way of temporarily getting away from the stresses of daily life as well as a way of reducing the rate at which my waistline expands. For Haettich it’s much more.
“Cycling is above all a passion, it’s freedom. When I see everything I’ve done on a bike, I can only be proud. Cycling brings me happiness and a true balance to my life, that is indisputable. Cycling takes away my disability, it helps me move forward, it helps me to always go further, to make the extra effort. The bike is a source of inspiration.”
The Haute Route Triple Crown is a remarkable achievement for any rider. Does the fact that Haettich has a disability make his accomplishment the more worthy of respect and admiration? He would say not. The other Triple Crown riders worked just as hard and suffered just as much. They all pushed themselves to their limits.
That being said, I can’t remember the winner’s name, but I will never forget Christian Haettich. – Callum Robertson
Read the full uplifting article and video on BBC news-magazine.
Images from HauteRoute.org