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What could happen?

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What could happen?

Dietmar Dorn loves racing through the snow, having become both European and World Champion in monoskiing!

Dietmar Dorn became a paraplegic as the result of a motorcycle accident. Strapping himself to a mono ski, he pulled himself out of depression and became a World Champion. When not on the slopes, he also challenges himself with basketball, the handbike, cross-country skiing and Swiss-truck excursions. Naturally, he also works hard and has a family.

When fog carpets the valley and temperatures in Schoppernau are south of minus 16 C and hovering around zero at Diedamskopf, the lifts transport people, snowboards, paragliders, sledges, prams and even food into the sun high above. One notices many things near the mountain station, from signs to nets and equipment, but a wheelchair really stands out. Has something happened to the wheelchair’s owner? Is this person perhaps unconscious somewhere in the snow? No way. Dietmar Dorn is carving tracks through the wintry landscape. Quick, full of power and athletic, he stops other skiers in their tracks and they stare at him with curious looks on their faces, questions on their mind, and mouths agape in disbelief. Who is this man, and why is he dressed for skiing? Lift personnel react professionally and slow down the chairlift, allowing him to perch himself and his monoski on board, a process that works on every lift around the world (even T-bars) and Dietmar has seen more of the world than most! For skiing alone, he has travelled to Chile, Italy, America, Japan, Russia, Korea and St. Moritz. Born in 1979, Dietmar Dorn grew up with two brothers and a sister in Riefensberg, a village in lower Bregenzerwald. His mother and father worked on the farm and Dietmar apprenticed as an electrician and works for LTW in Wolfurt. Growing up, he skied, snowboarded, played football and volleyball, did a bit of this and that.

Everything changed, however, in 2003, when he crashed while travelling with his colleague by motorcycle through Hittisau. The streets were wet and the tires slipped in the curve and Dietmar was propelled into the guardrail. Even as he struggled to remain conscious, he became aware that something had changed. Blood collected in his lungs and his body became limp. His friend, a professional paramedic, immediately suspected paralysis and called for a helicopter. Dietmar was flown to Feldkirch and lay in a coma for two days. Subsequently, he would spend two weeks in intensive care and three months in the hospital. At the time, he was still able to move his toes and the doctors said this was a good sign. Perhaps some day he would walk again they said, and so Dietmar began rehabilitation in Bad Häring in Tyrol, where he would remain for four months. But Dietmar was unable to walk again and no miracles were in the cards.

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His parents constructed a handicap-accessible apartment for him on the first floor. When Dietmar returned home to a familiar environment, however, he began to realise just how far he had fallen. Mothered and cared for, he felt helpless and his friends found it difficult to know just how to approach him. Even well-meaning visits from the people in his life were hard to handle.

“I felt like I was going crazy."

Dietmar Dorn

His only hope was an operation or perhaps a miracle, and yet neither materialised. Eventually it became clear that Dietmar would figuratively have to stand on his own two feet. He moved out, rented an apartment in Dornbirn, made new friends and decided to live an independent life on his own terms. During this transition, it also became clear that he could only manage this feat by training the muscles he did have into those of a world champion. After his first experience on a mono-ski, he was so exhausted that he didn’t know how to get in, let alone out, of the bathtub. And yet even then he sensed his own athletic potential. He disregarded the costs involved in purchasing expensive equipment suited to his body. Instead of ski poles he used under-arm supports that featured a small ski at the bottom. His feet are packed into special socks and boots made of sheep’s wool and leather. The waistband is so tight that just looking at it takes the breath away. “That’s the hardest part,” he says breathlessly. The belt has to be as tight as ski boots. The hips, head and hands guide him through the curves. Before he knew it, Dietmar Dorn had already signed up for his first races. He trained tirelessly from Friday to Sunday and not just on holidays. Luckily he was able to find work in customs duty at the Federal Finance Ministry in Wolfurt, where he had the opportunity to ski five months a year while working full time. The Finance Ministry has sponsored top athletes since 1952 and such support is the envy of athletes from other nations. Austria Cup, European Cup and World Cup participation would follow as the young Dietmar Dorn found his flow. He had to learn to lose with grace, to deal with the competition, and to focus mentally. Along the way he accumulated trophies and accolades. Eventually, he would become national champion and even world champion. He represented Austria at the Paralympic Games in both Vancouver and Sochi.

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On the Diedamskopf below the cable car he stops upon his edges to admire the view. Though four times as long as this one, the slope that he and other skiers at the Paralympics in Sochi were to race down was similarly steep and he watched as other skiers raced into the valley below. Dietmar loves speed, though every risk must be a calculated one. He considered the downhill race that day in Sochi to be too dangerous and he pulled himself out of competition. Here at the Diedamskopf, however, he glides effortlessly downward with the elegance of a world champion. At the Olympic Training Centre in Dornbirn, Dietmar met his future wife.

In 2015, he ended his professional career and these days he is married and the proud father of two sons. Yet he still needs sports today as in the past and he loves basketball, the handbike, cross-country skiing and skiing. In summer, he organises Swiss-Truck excursions for those in wheelchairs. At home he enjoys cooking and in his free time he accepts invitations to speak at colleges and nurse’s training schools. With pride he notices how he can inspire others. “They ask ‘how do you do it?’” The answer: with calm, confidence and humour. Obstacles, which are constantly in his way (such as steps or other barriers to movement), are all taken in stride. “What could happen?” he says with a laugh, struggling to remove himself from a mound of snow without a little help. “There’s always a solution.”

Author: Irmgard Kramer