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He wanted 72 operations following motorcycle crash, however Paralympian says ‘physique and thoughts is stronger than you’ll be able to think about’

The Belgian bicycle owner signed his skilled contract a number of months earlier than, working in direction of his ambition of turning into a professional rider.

It was a aim he had nurtured since he was eight years outdated, having grown up listening to tales of his father, who had additionally raced professionally.

However after Schelfhout crashed right into a automotive after which slid right into a parked automotive, his tank burst — and so did that of the car. He was caught between two explosions and says it took firemen 14 makes an attempt to place out the hearth.

“I had only one feeling, and it was survive,” Schelfhout tells Muricas Information Sport of the 2008 accident. “The ache I felt was not human anymore.”

The aftermath

Schelfhout sustained a number of accidents and 80% of his physique was burned, together with his lungs.

“I had damaged bones, my arm was in items, my leg, my arms. It was horrible,” he says.

He spent nearly three months in a coma, one which was so extreme that his physique was going to be put down, however as he places it, “My coronary heart was sturdy.”

When Schelfhout did lastly get up he found the left facet of his physique had been left paralyzed by the accident,

When medical doctors held up a mirror to his face, he might see the bodily scarring he had endured. “I take a mirror they usually say, ‘Look, that is the way you look now and that is how you are going to reside.'”

As he remembers, his response to his new face was “the primary psychological breakdown.”

“I did not take into consideration biking within the first weeks. I simply wanted to grow to be stronger,” he says. “I used to be actually into studying, strolling once more, writing and talking.”

His family and friends supplied him a useful sense of ethical assist, one thing he nonetheless cherishes 13 years later.

“For my mother and father, it was a extremely nasty time,” he says, “I am fortunate as a result of my mother and father are supporting me so exhausting and so effectively in every little thing I do.”

“I’ve a variety of pals that assist me […] I can say I am a fortunate man. With pals like that and household.”

Schelfhout says he's "a lucky guy" to have such supportive friends and family.

Preventing to remain within the race

Medical consultants ultimately advised Schelfhout that he wanted to shelve his biking dream, as a result of in depth nerve harm in his left leg and his hip.

He says that he determined to attempt to cycle that very same day as a way to see what his physique is likely to be able to. “The primary 20 meters have been essentially the most horrible meters in my life. The whole lot was hurting, and it was like a toddler of six years that was attempting to bike.”

“The medical doctors additionally advised me whole restoration was not potential.

“I had a girlfriend. She was not into biking […] and he or she mentioned, ‘It’s worthwhile to cease every little thing.’ I advised her ‘No, I need to end what I began, and I cease biking once I need, not when someone tells me I must cease.'”

Within the months between his coma and rehab, Schelfhout endured, utilizing a handbike to enhance his higher mobility. After two weeks, he says he had a glimmer of hope, when he noticed “some unusual feeling” in his bicep. A fortnight later, he had a contraction in his muscle.

Barely a yr after his accident, Schelfhout was using to and from the hospital on his bike.

“I used to be using straight to the room of the physician and I advised him, ‘Look I am again on the bike and I am going to grow to be stronger and stronger and I’ll race once more. I do not know when, however I’ve a sense it is potential,” he says.

“He advised me that it is my thoughts that is so sturdy. If I would like one thing, I am going to do something for it.”

After the accident, Schelfhout says doctors told him he would have to forget his cycling dreams.

A bump within the highway

In 2011, Schelfhout’s luck modified when he learn {a magazine} article about Kris Bosmans, a Belgian para bicycle owner who had began competing after struggling a stroke. Impressed by his story, he determined to succeed in out to Bosmans.

“At the moment, I did not take into consideration para biking as a result of in Belgium it isn’t as well-known a sport,” Schelfhout says.

Nevertheless, after listening to extra about Bosmans’ story, he started to see para biking as a pathway to competing.

Decided to race once more, he contacted the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) — the game’s governing physique — and, as a way to get bodily able to compete, he shed over 88 kilos (40 kg) in three months.

His final racing yr had been in 2007, so Schelfhout says he was enthusiastic about his first para biking occasion in 2012 in Rome. “The sensation was good that I used to be again on the bike for competitors.”

Though, the race did not fairly go as deliberate.

Paralympic athletes who use a regular bicycle participate in 5 sport classes — C1-5 — with decrease numbers representing extra acute limitation in decrease and/or higher limbs.

Schelfhout, who had been positioned within the C4 class previous to the race, says he was advised earlier than competing that he ought to have really been taking part within the C3 class.

In his early competitors years as a para bicycle owner, Schelfhout says essentially the most difficult side of coaching and competing was having to reconcile the concept his physique would by no means be as sturdy because it was earlier than the accident.

“The primary yr in para biking was a horrible yr as a result of I used to be at all times evaluating how I used to be earlier than the accident and after.”

“For me, the primary drawback is the nerve drawback I’ve in my left facet of my physique. My left leg is only a quarter of energy in comparison with the precise facet, and my arm is one seventh of energy.

“My again on the left facet is partly paralyzed. I’ve much less energy to speed up.

“There are athletes that earlier than their accident by no means raced, and they do not know the chances of their physique. I do know what I might do earlier than and I needed to do the identical.”

After reading a magazine article about Belgian para cyclist Kris Bosmans, Schelfhout was inspired to pursue the sport.

Chasing a Paralympic dream

Since then, Schelfhout has been in a position to regain his confidence by specializing in the psychological and bodily edge he might need over his friends. For instance, he says the precise facet of his physique is stronger than that of able-bodied athletes.

“Once I’m competing, there’s like a button in my head, and positively in massive races, that tells me simply go for it, simply fly and see what you may get.”

In 2016, Schelfhout skilled yet one more setback when he had a crash, breaking his collarbone and his hip.

He subsequently discovered himself ignored of Belgium’s first choice for the Paralympic Video games in Rio. “After a couple of weeks, I used to be again on the bike however I wasn’t in an excellent situation for racing.”

After 4 years of working in direction of a Paralympic dream, he determined to take a break. However two weeks earlier than the Rio Video games, he received a telephone name from the federation, saying a spot had opened up for his choice.

“I wasn’t in a fine condition for the Video games,” he says. “Usually on the monitor if I am beginning, I am at all times racing for the rostrum. Now, I needed to make tenth or eighth place. In Rio, I made tenth place. I used to be not completely happy about it.”

“Mentally, it was a bit bit unhappy, nevertheless it made me stronger.”

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, Schelfhout says that regardless that he was dissatisfied, he felt it essential to prioritize security over competing.

“It is […] higher to save lots of our households and pals from the pandemic. It was only one yr and one yr would not make you worse or higher. While you’re on the highest stage, you’ll be able to come again the yr after.”

Now, he hopes to make his comeback at Tokyo 2020, the place he’ll be competing in 4 occasions, together with the 3km particular person pursuit monitor race, the 1km time trial monitor race and the time trial and highway race occasions.

After all of it, Schelfhout’s trying ahead to representing Belgium on the Video games. “For me, it is a good feeling, it is a golden feeling as a result of not all people can say they’ll do it. I really like my nation and I really like displaying the individuals of Belgium a terrific biking marketing campaign.”

Schelfhout says having the opportunity to represent Belgium at the Tokyo Paralympic Games is "a golden feeling."

The ability of visibility

On reflection, Schelfhout says psychological fortitude has carried him by essentially the most difficult moments of his profession.

“Mentally […] I’ve one slogan, and that is ‘It isn’t how exhausting you hit. It is about how exhausting you may get hit and hold shifting ahead.'”

“I need to grow to be stronger,” he says. “It isn’t about the way you look, it is about how you’re feeling and what you need to obtain and grow to be.”

The most effective side of competing as a para athlete? Schelfhout says it is discovering energy in neighborhood.

“I believe that is the great factor in para sports activities, all people is pals with one another as a result of they understand how exhausting life is.”

Since making his technique to the world stage, he has devoted his platform to growing the visibility of burn victims in sport.

“I need to present individuals on the earth that as a result of you have got a extremely nasty accident, […] you might want to nonetheless go on in your life. I need to encourage individuals to play sports activities once more, reside once more, like earlier than,” he says.

“I’ve a variety of scars over my physique. All over the place I am going, individuals have a look at me as a result of lots of people in Belgium do not understand how individuals with burn marks look. I need to present them that I do not care.”

“I need to present that I am Diederick and I struggle for my life, however I nonetheless get pleasure from life.”

Schelfhout hopes that by sharing his story, he can inspire others not to give up hope.

‘I’m sturdy sufficient’

Schelfhout says he would not have been in a position to fulfill his childhood dream of being a world class bicycle owner had it not been for his shut knit community of family and friends.

“The those that assist me, the federation, it is actually essential to have good individuals round you to realize one thing good and effectively in your life,” he says. “I am so grateful to have that, it is so vital.”

“All people round me is de facto pleased with me, however I am additionally pleased with myself as a result of I’ve proven the world that I’m sturdy sufficient to grow to be a bicycle owner once more. I need to present the world it is potential.”

Competing as a para athlete has given Schelfhout a brand new sense of respect and gratitude for his physique. “I’ve realized that your physique and thoughts is stronger than you’ll be able to think about.”

“Earlier than my accident, I at all times needed to win. I’ve the identical feeling. However the massive distinction is when I’ve a high ten place, I am additionally completely happy. I need to do higher. It is to not say, ‘OK, I am completely happy.’ No, however I can perceive and reside with it.

“I do not want something greater than my bike, my girlfriend and my canines to be completely happy.”

From dwelling by a terrifying accident to present process 72 operations, it is honest to say Schelfhout has been knocked down greater than many in life.

But when there’s something his journey from Belgium to Japan has confirmed, it is that the facility of getting up, preventing again and sustaining self perception — particularly when the chances are stacked towards you — will at all times trump a spell of dangerous luck.

“When one thing goes incorrect, you might want to struggle for it.”

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