(c) Mika Volkmann
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

“Running is amazing!”

“Talent Days” in Leverkusen encourage children and teenagers with prostheses to engage in sports

Sprint, long jump, javelin – sports such as these are challenging for amputees, and almost impossible if they’re wearing an everyday prosthesis. To encourage children and teenagers to engage in sports after a lower limb amputation and spark their interest in athletics, three partners joined forces to organise the Talent Days from 18th to 20th September: DBS (German Sports Association for Disabled), TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Ottobock, a medtech manufacturer and Paralympic sponsor. Eight participants between the ages of eight and eighteen spent the weekend learning to move with sport prostheses based on a fun and playful approach, and they pushed their own personal boundaries to new limits in the process. Coach and Paralympic gold medal winner Heinrich Popow was close at hand to help throughout, as was Johannes Floors, six-time world champion and world record holder for double transtibial amputees in the 400 metres event.

First steps on a sport prosthesis

Together with his team, O&P professional and sport prosthetic expert Julian Napp fitted the children at the Talent Days weekend with their first ever sport prosthesis. One of the girls was Emily from Neuss in North Rhine-Westphalia. At first, the 13-year-old stood shyly by her father. Then, tentatively, she took her first steps. “I bet you’ll be running by tomorrow,” Popow said to Emily – and he was right. On Saturday, Sara Grädtke (TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen coach for para-athletics) and Helena Pietsch (assistant coach for young talents and junior athletes) supervised a training session for coordination and running where Emily surpassed herself. “I ran faster than I would ever have believed possible. If you really want to do it, you find you can.” Her father was equally delighted with her progress. “Emily has never really run before. She was in a wheelchair for a long time. So it’s amazing to see her here, running and playing with the other children.” Emily is now set to attend weekly training sessions with TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

The wind on your face

Viet is 18 years old. He travelled down from Lower Saxony to attend the Talent Days. Two years ago, his leg was amputated at the thigh. Prior to his amputation, Viet enjoyed playing badminton. Now he dreams of being able to run fast again, for long distances. After taking his first steps on the sport prosthesis, he paused to describe his impressions. “It’s an amazing feeling when you run, particularly when the wind blows in your face. I’d forgotten what it felt like!” After that, there was no stopping Viet. Even in the breaks, he’d continue running up and down the field. And at the end of the first day, he jogged back to the hotel while coach Heinrich Popow brought his bags for him in the car.

Motivation for sports

Popow had already met three of the participants in hospital before they underwent their amputation. He often visits children and teenagers just before their operation so he can encourage them and their parents. That’s also how he met Elias. Elias is eight years old and has trained with TSV in Leverkusen for two years. At the Talent Days, he was particularly taken with the long jump. If Popow hadn’t visited Elias in hospital before and after his amputation, he probably wouldn’t have started engaging in para-sports so quickly, his mother says.

When their child undergoes an amputation, many parents have no idea that sports are still very much an option, or that sport prostheses are available for their children. Helena Pietsch, who is responsible for young talents in the German Sports Association for Disabled, emphasises that every child in Germany is actually entitled to an adequate prosthesis that enables them to join in with PE lessons at school. “In order for children and teenagers to join in with PE lessons at school following an amputation, they need a prosthesis that allows them to move quickly. This is covered by German health insurance providers. Our job is to make sure the parents concerned get this information sooner.”

The Talent Days themselves also serve to raise awareness of the many options available to young amputees. Due to the current situation with the coronavirus, this year’s Talent Days were scaled down. The German Sports Association for Disabled, TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Ottobock plan to further expand their partnership next year.

Jörg Frischmann (CEO for the para-athletic department of TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen) shared his insights on what made the event so successful: “The team spirit we experienced at the Talent Days was exceptional. Not only between the participants themselves, but also the way the organisers worked hand in hand with the coaches, active athletes and O&P professionals. At times, some people even had tears in their eyes because certain moments were so moving. The mix of working on prosthetic alignments, sports, games and small talk with a leader and motivator like Heinrich Popow make us all look forward to more of the same next year.”

Picture caption: (C) Mika Volkmann

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