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Heinz Frei

09.12.2021 – STÉPHANE HERZOG

Parasports receive less media attention than so called able-bodied sports. And Heinz Frei is less well-known than, say, tennis player Belinda Bencic, gold medal winner in the Tokyo Olympic Games. And yet, Frei’s story is incredible!.On 1 September, at the Paralympic Games, the 63-year-old athlete from Berne won the silver medal in road handcycling. He cycled 78 km in the driving rain using just the strength of his arms. This was the 16th time he has participated in the Paralympic Games, in which he has won a haul of 16 gold medals in athletics, handcycling and cross-country skiing. Superhuman!

This exceptional sporting tale began with an accident. The year was 1978 and the young Heinz was running in the mountains. He fell and broke his spine at his ribcage. The result was paraplegia. “Am I going to manage? Is life in a wheelchair worth living?” Heinz Frei asked himself. Then, two years later, he returned to sports with a modified wheelchair. The idea of limitations has underpinned his journey. “It is important to have realistic objectives that lead step by step to success, and that allow you to achieve what is possible, rather than aiming for a utopia which will always remain a fantasy. This means accepting deep down that there are limits,” he explains on the website of a Swiss stairlift manufacturer.

In Tokyo, on the Fuji International Speedway, Heinz Frei took risks and succeeded in winning the silver medal, which he describes as his gold medal. “Today, the real winner is my body,” he states. After his accident, the sportsman had to refamiliarise himself with this new body, “until it became [his] friend”. Mission accomplished.