The woman who went forth to learn hand-cycling

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How Kateřina surpassed the men and Zdeněk got a new wife

On August 12th, 2012, Kateřina Antošová is standing on a ladder in her garden and picking pears. At this time, she is 47 years old, a happily married mother of three boys, a sports enthusiast and a career woman. Today she’s still the same despite how much her life changed within seconds on that day in August: a branch broke, she fell from four meters high and injured her spine. Since then, she has been paralyzed from the waist down.

We meet Kateřina five years later in Cologne on a camping ground along the Rhine river where she is making a pit stop between world cup races in Italy and Belgium. Kateřina has meanwhile become not only a blogger, book author and a master of her wheelchair, but a top athlete with her hand-operated recumbent bicycle, the so-called Handbike. 

I already see her from a distance in her bright, yellow hoodie. She moves her wheelchair with natural elegance. Her handshake is strong and her smile portrays halos around her eyes. Her shoes also give her sense of humor away: a red-white, ankle-high creation - half cowboy boot, half wingtip shoe. 

“Earlier I always made sure I wore the most comfortable shoes possible. Today I can wear whatever I like”, She grins.

And at the risk of posing a question that she has answered countless times, I just have to ask: What is her secret? From where does she draw her zest for life? Is there a trick? Kateřina laughs and shakes her head. “There are no tricks”, she says. “I am simply a woman who loves her life and tries making the best out of it.” It is with this mindset that she landed at the Paralympics in Rio. 

“I have always loved speed. I guess I need the adrenalin kick.”

How did she get there? “I have always loved speed. I guess I need the adrenalin kick. What stressed me out the most after my accident was the idea that I would have to move around at a snail’s pace in a wheelchair. That would have driven me crazy.” 

Her husband, Zdeněk, a mechanical engineer and bicycle-racing enthusiast, encouraged her to purchase her first used handbike through an auction from her hospital bed. “I thought it would be nice to have her riding next to me”, says Zdeněk. “Allowing her to outpace me after such a short period of time was not the plan. But then she also surpassed the other 29 handbikers in the Czech Republic - all of them men, mind you. That at least helped with my tattered ego”, he winks at Kateřina.

I assume that it took some time for Kateřina to get used to the fact that she would never again feel anything from her belly button down. It seems I am mistaken though. 

“It actually helped me that there was no hope.”
 

“I am predisposed to being quite rational and accepted my situation from the very beginning. It actually helped me that there was no hope. Hope is often the worst that can happen because you then get jittery and fearful and cling onto something for dear life. It’s very nerve-racking.” She experienced this with others, but says that she was spared all of that herself. 

Questions such as 'Why did this happen to me? Was it a punishment? A coincidence? Fate?' never crossed her mind. “She was always an unshakeable optimist”, mentions Zdeněk. “I even think that I appreciate my life even more since my accident”, says Kateřina. “I have received so much help and support from other people. I would like to give some of that back.” That’s why she began writing her blog from which her book, Paradiary - A diary of a wheelchair athlete, would later result.

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“Shortly after my accident, I would have really needed someone to say to me ‘I know what you are going through. I have also been in a wheelchair for years now and my life is great anyway. Be brave and don’t give up.’ In my blog, I write about my feelings and how you can get through anything, but also about the day-to-day challenges.”
From doors that are too narrow and unsurmountable stairs to private topics such as non-functioning excretion. “Even incontinence is a troublesome issue for paraplegics and I think it’s important to exchange such information. I write about B. Braun’s products with utmost conviction. They bring enormous relief into my life and I want them to do the same for others.”

And where does she get the energy for her sport as well as her dedication to others that are also affected, her family and, last but not least, her job as a controller in a bank, which she took on again six months after her accident? “What gives me the most strength are the people in my life - above all, my husband. He is not only my trainer and coach, my personal engineer and travel companion, but also my biggest motivator and best friend.”

Their relationship reached a new level of quality after the accident, says Kateřina. “Right after our silver wedding anniversary, he got what many long-time married men probably want at that point: a completely new wife.” Both look at each other for a moment and then break into an uproarious laugh. 

And now I understand: Kateřina’s trick is that there are no tricks, but rather just an attitude. As she said herself: She is a woman who loves her life and makes the best out of it. And that’s probably the secret.

By Christin Bernhardt
 

Intermittent self catheterization for an independent active life