A Plane Crash Sur­vivor and a Dec­i­mated Team Push For­ward

Foll­mann, who lost his leg in a crash that killed most of his Chapecoense team­mates, is start­ing to walk again as his old team has re­sumed play

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Dom Phillips

Jak­son Foll­mann gripped the guide rails and took one painstak­ing step af­ter an­other, test­ing the pros­thetic leg that now fills the space once oc­cu­pied by his lower right leg. The de­vice was fit­ted to Foll­mann’s lanky frame only a week ago, and as he tried it out, his fa­ther, Paulo, and his phys­io­ther­a­pist, Eliene Lima, silently cheered him on.

When Foll­mann, a for­mer soc­cer player with a buzz cut and a quick smile, made his way to the end of the bars, ev­ery­one who had squeezed into the white-walled exam room clapped in cel­e­bra­tion. Lima wrapped Foll­mann in a hug. He re­sponded with a wink and a grin.

It has been more than two months since Foll­mann, 24, lost his right leg — the most sig­nif­i­cant of his many se­ri­ous in­juries — when a char­ter flight car­ry­ing his Brazil­ian soc­cer team, As­so­ci­ação Chapecoense de Fute­bol, crashed into a muddy Colom­bian moun­tain­side on the way to a match. The dis­as­ter killed 71 peo­ple — in­clud­ing nearly ev­ery player and coach from Chapecoense, the provin­cial team that was near­ing the end of a fairy-tale sea­son.

Foll­mann, a re­serve goal­keeper, was one of only seven peo­ple found alive once res­cuers climbed through the dark to the wreck­age (one of the sur­vivors later died in a hos­pi­tal). Now, ther­a­pists at the In­sti­tuto de Prótese e Órtese pros­thet­ics clinic here said they were amazed he was walk­ing al­ready. And Foll­mann is qui­etly proud of his progress.

“In one week of phys­io­ther­apy, of treat­ment, I man­aged to take my first steps,” he said. “For me, it was a re­ally big vic­tory.”

The Chapecoense tragedy re­ver­ber­ated around the world. Few fans out­side South Amer­ica had heard of the small team from the south of Brazil be­fore the Novem­ber NYT crash, which came as the team was fly­ing to its first ap­pear­ance in the fi­nal of the Copa Su­damer­i­cana, South Amer­ica’s sec­ond­biggest club tour­na­ment. But as news of the crash flashed around the world, some of soc­cer’s big­gest teams held min­utes of si­lence be­fore matches, top play­ers like Lionel Messi paid homage, and the #ForçaChape hash­tag be­came a sym­bol of global sup­port. Now both the team and sur­vivors like Foll­mann are be­gin­ning the long road back. The club has al­ready as­sem­bled a team of bor­rowed, out-of-con­tract and youth-team play­ers, and last month it started play­ing com­pet­i­tive soc­cer again un­der a new coach, Vag­ner Mancini. “We won’t stop fight­ing — this is the mes­sage we all have,” said José Con­stante, a goal­keeper known by his mid­dle name Ni­valdo. Con­stante, 42, was not on the f light, and af­ter the crash he fol­lowed through on plans to re­tire. He now works as the team’s di­rec­tor of soc­cer. Chapecoense was founded in 1973 in Chapecó, a quiet, in­dus­trial city of 210,000 sur­rounded by agri­cul­tural land. The team landed in Brazil’s fourth di­vi­sion in 2009, but by 2014 it had climbed into the top flight, Série A. Foll­mann joined as a re­serve goal­keeper in May, near the be­gin­ning of an ex­tra­or­di­nary run that was sup­posed to be crowned by the Copa Su­damer­i­cana fi­nal against Colom­bia’s Atlético Na­cional.

Chapeceonse had no big-name play­ers, Foll­mann said, but it was well or­ga­nized and had de­vel­oped an un­usu­ally strong sense of

team­work. “We were a Out­side South fam­ily,” he said. “There Amer­ica, few was no van­ity, no stars. As had heard of we say in soc­cer, there was Chapecoense no Pelé.” from the Foll­mann fit right in. He

had grown up in Ale­crim, south of Brazil

a small town in the nearby be­fore the No

state of Rio Grande do Sul. vem­ber crash

As a child he played soc­cer be­hind the fam­ily home with his fa­ther, a po­lice sergeant who is now re­tired. Foll­mann joked that he be­came a goal­keeper be­cause he was no good at any other po­si­tion.

Tal l, fast and ac­ro­batic, t he 6 -foot-1 Foll­mann left home at 13 to sign with Grêmio, the state’s big­gest team, and later played for smaller teams in Brazil’s vast in­te­rior be­fore even­tu­ally sign­ing with Chapecoense.

Play­ing time was hard to come by, how­ever. Chapecoense’s start­ing goal­keeper, Mar­cos Padilha, known as Danilo, was en­joy­ing a dream sea­son when Foll­mann ar­rived, and he ap­peared in only one com­pet­i­tive game, a Copa Su­damer­i­cana match that Chapecoense lost, 1-0.

Luiz Chig­nall, Foll­mann’s agent, said that might have been about to change; Padilha, 31, was ex­pected to be trans­ferred at the end of the sea­son, open­ing the way for Foll­mann. But that hardly mat­ters now. Padilha sur­vived the crash but died in a hos­pi­tal, and Foll­mann’s in­juries have cost him his soc­cer ca­reer. The team was fly­ing from Santa Cruz, Bo­livia, to Medel­lín, Colom­bia, with a tiny Bo­li­vian char­ter com­pany, LaMia, that it had used be­fore. In­ves­ti­ga­tions by the Bo­li­vian and Colom­bian au­thor­i­ties found that the plane ran out of fuel min­utes from land­ing in Medel­lín. The Bo­li­vians have blamed LaMia and the pi­lot, one of the com­pany’s co-own­ers, who was among those killed in the crash.

Jack­sonFoll­man­dur­ing­phys­io­ther­a­py­inSao Paulo, Brazil —

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