Markus Gfatterhofer
Markus Gfatterhofer  © David Robinson

Optimistic and full of beans


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21-year-old Markus Gfatterhofer is paraplegic since a tragic accident six years ago. Nevertheless, the likeable Austrian is optimistic, full of beans and realises his newly defined goals: One of Markus’ dreams is to represent Austria at the Paralympics as a monoskier. Apart from training, he works in an office and attends evening classes so that he can finally graduate from high school.  In this interview, Markus tells us about his accident, its consequences and his new perspectives in life.

How did you sustain your spinal cord injury?
I’m one of the few people affected by spinal cord injury following an extreme-sports-accident. On June 16th in 2007, I experienced a heavy fall in a motocross race. My motorbike crashed into my back and smashed my 7th thoracic vertebra.

What was your first thought after the accident?
The time between my fall and being transported in the helicopter felt like it was happening in slow motion. I didn’t lose consciousness and knew exactly what had happened because I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. Instead there was a strange tingling. Unfortunately, my first surgery wasn’t successful at all; parts of my hipbone were used to reconstruct the smashed vertebra which made everything even more complicated and negatively affected further body functions.

How has your life changed after the accident?
From one second to another a lot of things became different for my family and me. But in the beginning I didn’t have time to think about it because I was in all-day therapy. After this, I rapidly found new kinds of sports that fulfill me today.

Which are the biggest barriers in your everyday life?
The most annoying thing in my everyday life is all the steps that exist in Austria. I need help wherever I go. The same goes for restrooms; it is nearly impossible to find disability-friendly toilets.

Do you also see positive aspects in your “new life”?
Definitely! Today, I’m able to appreciate small successes. I’m very thankful, for instance, that as a paraplegic I’m able to use my hands and to scale mountains by hand bike or to enjoy deep powder snow with the monoski. Many others with spinal cord injury can’t do so.

Which goals did you set yourself after the accident?
My most important aim after my stay in hospital was to win back as many body functions as possible through therapy. Today, six years after the accident, I am concentrating on becoming one of Austria’s top four monoskiers.

What is your biggest wish?
I’d love to represent Austria at the next Winter Paralympics in Sotchi. If this is too ambitious, I will focus on South Korea in 2018.
And of course my biggest wish is independence from the wheel chair one day. Being able to feel sand under my feet again would be the greatest!

Do you follow developments in spinal cord research and what do you like about Wings for Life?
Sure! I am grateful that Wings for Life funds science and research. Finding a cure for spinal cord injury will help everyone affected and will be long-term solution.


If you have sustained a spinal cord injury after an accident and are interested in sharing your personal story, just send a short and informal message to office@wingsforlife.com. We would be very pleased to hear from you.