“The man who works and is never bored is never old. Work and interest in worthwhile things are the best remedy for age.”
I do not think a day passes in my life in which I fail to look with fresh amazement at the miracle of nature. it is there on every side. It can be simply a shadow on a mountainside, or a spider’s web gleaming with dew, or sunlight on the leaves of a tree. I have always especially loved the sea. Whenever possible, I have lived by the sea… It has long been a custom of mine to walk along the beach each morning before I start to work. True, my walks are shorter than they used to be, but that does not lessen the wonder of the sea. How mysterious and beautiful is the sea! how infinitely variable! It is never the same, never, not from one moment to the next, always in the process of change, always becoming something different and new.
They race over 22 days with only one day off. In that time they cover more than 1,600 miles (2,575km) and complete 60 ascents involving about 60,000m of climbing – more than six-and-a-half times the vertical height of Mount Everest. Doing one Haute Route was going to be an enormous challenge for me. I couldn’t imagine what doing three would be like, let alone with only one arm and one leg.
As the start time of the first stage approached, the riders began to gather at the line. Butterflies flew around my stomach at the thought of what was to come. Then, as he calmly rolled through the crowd, I saw for the first time the unmistakable figure of Christian Haettich.
Haettich was born and brought up in rural Alsace, in north-east France. He describes his childhood as being completely normal until a devastating accident in December 1976 when he was 15 years old. He was out riding a moped when he was hit head-on by a car that was overtaking oncoming traffic. As a result of the accident he lost his left leg from the hip and his left arm from just below the elbow.
It took me almost a year to feel confident but in the end the struggle paid off”
„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.”
He describes overcoming these suicidal thoughts as an exercise in self-control and determination, characteristics that have been evident throughout his life since then.
Although he had long been a fan of professional cycling, it wasn’t until his mid-30s – by this time married with children – that he thought of taking up the sport himself. He had always kept himself fit, mainly through weight training but the chance sighting of a man with one leg riding up a mountain encouraged him to try cycling himself.
Learning to ride a bike is all about balance. We use our arms and legs instinctively as counterbalances and supports to keep us upright. Although Christian has a prosthetic leg for walking, it is not suitable for cycling. Having his weight on the right side of his body made the process of learning to ride extremely demanding.
„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,” he says.
Many cyclists use clips on the soles of their shoes, or straps, to keep their feet firmly secured on the pedal, and this is crucial for cyclists with only one leg. After pushing the pedal down they have to be able to pull it back up for the next down-stroke.
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