Inspiration, Motivation, Triathlon -

How I lost my leg and became the man I am today

Sebastian Engwald

 

In 1999, I was 11 years old and had just taken up sailing dinghy boats. After a successful sailing lesson with a lot of other children, it was tradition and mandatory to learn capsizing drills. In this drill you capsize the boat in order to learn how to flip it back around, in case you would need it for real one day. For me, this day would be a day of something entirely different.

Lying in the water after the boat was intentionally capsized, I notice the coach’s motorboat come closer to me to give further instructions. As the boat approached, I remember thinking the boat is getting really close, and quickly too. The next thing to happen is that I’m being dragged underneath the boat, and the engine is pulling my left leg through the propeller. In a moment of panic and fired by the adrenaline, I’m fighting to get my head above water. Somehow I manage to get flipped around to the back end of the boat, and soon discover that my left leg is stuck and completely destroyed by the propeller.

This was the beginning of my journey as an amputee.

Did the accident that cost me my leg influence the person that I am today?

That’s a question I get very often when people hear about what I do and what I have achieved – the answer is YES, of course it did. The fact is, I couldn’t imagine where I would be without that accident. I was 11 years old, and therefore I was able to shape myself around the fact that I didn’t have a left foot anymore. And the truth is, I rarely do anything despite of my “disability” anymore – I do things because of it. This year it will be 20 years since the accident, and I still think this way.

Luckily for me I was only 11 years old, and kids don’t just sit around! Instead I was exploring all of the things that I was able do. Being active on my prosthesis taught me my boundaries and how to get back up and brush myself off. I tried to master a lot of things that other kids normally wouldn’t and when I've been successful at these attempts, has helped me to become a more creative and fast learner. I now know that perseverance is key. I can go to another place mentally to learn a new skill that I have an interest for, even the ones that don’t require my legs.
  

"The way people look at me, unknowingly of what I can do, I use to my advantage. My biggest motivation is to be underestimated. It is that fear of being underestimated that drives me the most."
 

It wasn't until 5 years ago that I started to compete against other para-athletes for the first time, during a para-triathlon World Cup. I realized that this was my opportunity to really compare and test myself against the best athletes in the world.

Triathlon is a challenge in both training and racing like no other sport. It’s a constant battle to try to master all three disciplines. That is also why I find triathlon so exciting. It allows me to inspire people and to show them that I can do more than just walk or swim or bike or run, but actually do whatever I set my mind and heart to.

Goal and the process:

My goal now is to reach, and win a gold medal, at the Paralympics triathlon at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, all while inspiring people along the way. I have also recently qualified for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final which will take place in Lausanne, Switzerland this September, so I am confident that I am on the right path to achieve my goal.  

Coming to Dubai with my wife has been the perfect opportunity for me to get close to the best of training conditions, facilities and the team that I surround myself with in the triathlon community here. Traveling around the world to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, using these opportunities will be a key role for me to succeed.

For everything to come together as a full time athlete, I value the help of my wife Pia, coach Tom Walker and partners such as On Running ME who make sure I get the time and resources it takes to have everything done the right way. Out of training, recovery is key for my performance. The more I train, the more I need to recover. The stress that the body experiences during the week, takes a whole bunch of recovery and nutrition. And it’s kind of like a secret discipline, to which it only seems possible to master when you are privileged to be a full time athlete such as myself. 

Seb chooses to train in the On Running Cloud X. Featuring the sole of the Cloud and an innovative upper of its own, it's Swiss Engineered for runners that level up their training with mixed sports sessions. Available in an array of colors here.

My typical training week contains:

  • 4 swim sessions (14km)
  • 3 Bike sessions (200km)
  • 4 run sessions (45km)
  • 2 strength and conditioning sessions (2 hrs)
  • 1 therapy session at DISC Dubai
  • 2-3 hrs of stretching and self-maintenance of the body

One of my biggest focus points in training is to strengthen my left side, on which I have my prosthesis. Even though I have very fancy and high-end prosthetic's, I tend to overcompensate with my 'good' side. This keeps me both motivated and focused in training knowing that I can become so much better, just by balancing my body.

The prosthesis I use are different from each discipline. For running I have a cool carbon running blade that makes me both run faster and makes sure my body doesn’t overcompensate.

For cycling, I have a specially made prosthetic leg which has a cleat attached directly to it, so that I won’t need a bike shoe. This saves weight and time in transition!

During swimming, it is prohibited to wear any prosthesis in para-triathlon competitions, but I do have a prosthesis for water, which I use when I find the time to wake-board, or head to the beach.

Sport for me has definitely been the one thing that has kept me going despite the ups and downs that life throws at you. I have fortunately been inspired to inspire. And that is why I do it. I love to inspire people to do things that in some way move them out of their comfort zone. All of the attention I get from people, and all the fear of being underestimated, I use to inspire people. To show them that what they think in a certain way, is not necessarily the case. And hopefully people get inspired when they admit to have underestimated what is possible with the right attitude.

Sebastian Engwald

 


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