BLADE JUMPER HAS SOAR­ING AM­BI­TIONS

▶ Markus Rehm lost his lower right leg in a boat­ing ac­ci­dent, but it did not stop him from pur­su­ing sport­ing ex­cel­lence

The National - News - - NEWS EMIRATES - RAMOLA TALWAR BADAM

Par­a­lympic cham­pion Markus Rehm looks for­ward to the day when para-ath­letes can com­pete against Olympians.

The Ger­man Blade Jumper made the long jump pit look small when he leapt more than eight me­tres through the air at the World Para Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Dubai.

Rehm, who lost his lower right leg in a boat­ing ac­ci­dent when he was 14, said his vi­sion was of a cham­pi­onship where able-bod­ied and para-ath­letes com­pete side by side.

“Ath­let­ics is our pas­sion so why should we not com­pete to­gether?” he told The Na­tional. “Peo­ple watch­ing the Olympics would be in­ter­ested to see para-ath­letes be­cause we com­pete on a high level, we are eye-to-eye. I hope it will hap­pen one day.”

He could not ful­fil his am­bi­tion to be part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games over con­cerns that the blade gave him an un­fair ad­van­tage. But he main­tains that the pros­the­sis lim­its his per­for­mance since it slows his run-up.

“I never had an ac­ci­dent think­ing, ‘I want to be bet­ter than oth­ers’. This was never my choice,” he said.

“I just re­placed what I lost and I have trained as hard as I can to reach this mark.”

At the Games in Dubai this week, he spoke of his de­ter­mi­na­tion to push him­self even fur­ther. “It feels like fly­ing.

You feel the en­ergy go­ing through your whole body,” said Rehm, 31, who com­petes in the T64 clas­si­fi­ca­tion for ath­letes who run or jump with a pros­thetic lower limb.

“I want to make the pit look small. Above eight me­tres feels great but any­thing above 8.4 me­tres is like fly­ing.”

The three-time Par­a­lympic and six-time world cham­pion set a world record of 8.48m last year at the World Cham­pi­onships in Ber­lin and re­cently leapt 8.5m at an un­of­fi­cial event in Tokyo in Au­gust. He hopes to re­peat this in of­fi­cial con­di­tions.

Rehm has big am­bi­tions to beat 8.54m, the Ger­man record. He has al­ready bested the 8.38m that won Amer­i­can Jeff Hen­der­son gold at Rio in 2016.

The of­fi­cial world record has stood since 1991, when Amer­i­can Mike Pow­ell soared 8.95m at the World Cham­pi­onships in Tokyo.

In Dubai, Rhem con­tin­ued his dom­i­nance in the field by clinch­ing gold with 8.17m, al­most a me­tre ahead of his near­est com­peti­tor.

“That’s my daily mo­ti­va­tion – I want to see how far I can go,” he said.

Rehm has come a long way since the ac­ci­dent dur­ing a fam­ily hol­i­day in Ger­many.

A wake­board­ing en­thu­si­ast, the teenage Rhem was be­ing towed by a boat as he ma­noeu­vred be­hind it.

He lost con­trol, fell into the river and could not dodge a boat di­rectly be­hind be­cause he was wear­ing a vest and his legs were fas­tened to the board.

The boat crashed into his leg and to save his life doc­tors had to am­pu­tate it be­low the right knee. At first, he said, he strug­gled to ac­cept the dis­abil­ity.

“I was al­ways the sporty guy in school. I had a pic­ture of my­self in my head and sud­denly the first time I saw my­self in the mirror, I felt I was not a com­plete per­son,” he said.

But dis­play­ing the re­silience that has be­come his hall­mark, he went snow­board­ing that win­ter and re­turned to the ac­ci­dent spot the next sum­mer on a wake­board, us­ing a pros­the­sis.

“It was a tri­umph to go back,” he said. “If you fail in some­thing or some­thing goes wrong, then my mo­ti­va­tion is to do ex­actly the same again be­cause I don’t want to be scared.

“I want to go back and face the fear.”

Rehm also takes on peo­ple who dis­miss para-ath­let­ics as not a proper sport­ing event.

“Some peo­ple say it’s a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion sport,” he said.

“They say it’s nice but the ath­letes are not ‘as good’. I want to show them they are wrong.”

A Ger­man para-sprinter in­tro­duced him to ath­let­ics at the age of 20.

“I didn’t want any­one set­ting my lim­its,” he said.

“That’s what I want to show young peo­ple – that no­body, not even your par­ents, are al­lowed to set your lim­its.”

If you fail in some­thing or some­thing goes wrong, then my mo­ti­va­tion is to do ex­actly the same again be­cause I don’t want to be scared MARKUS REHM

Vic­tor Besa / The Na­tional

Markus Rehm in ac­tion at the Dubai 2019 World Para Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships

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