© Andreas Brandl

“I used to feel so free”

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Yoshij Grimm really lived life to the fullest. He was athletic, popular and had a highly successful career. Then an accident changed everything. Today, the 24-year-old is ready to share his story with us.

My life was brilliant. I was an athlete and a voice actor – I got to travel a lot. Then everything changed because a truck driver didn’t give me the right of way.” While 24-year-old Yoshij Grimm tells his story, he often stares into space. He strives to come across as strong and to smile every now and then, but he has to fight back tears time and time again. Yoshij was born in Berlin, where he lived with his older sister and single mother. “I was quite active, even as a child. I tried nearly every sport there is,” he recalls. At six years of age, his then-best friend was offered a role in a movie. “It was so cool that I wanted to be a part of it too,” he says. Yoshij’s mum signed him up with an acting agency, and he was soon offered parts in German TV productions. “It was all very exciting for me, but I soon realised how conceited and off-track all the other child actors were.”

Summer 2010 - at the prom with good friends.
Summer 2010 - at the prom with good friends. 

Yoshij´s signature Role 
“Voice acting brought me much more pleasure than acting – you don’t have to be creative. You have a clearly defined project, need to be fully alert and there is only one way to get it right.” Yoshij learned quickly, which is evident in his skill for language and accents. “I find it easy to immerse myself in specific roles and moods, which led to my being successful in the field fairly quickly,” he says, while recalling his early professional talents. At 12 years old, he was doing voice-over work for movies and performing in radio plays on a regular basis. His signature role is Peter Shaw in the German kids’ version of The Three Investigators. “This particular character is often a little timid, but still athletic and adventurous. It was a part I felt I was born to play.” 

In the fast Lane 
In line with the film hero’s character, Yoshij was eager to try everything. He was a member of a gymnastics and trampoline club, he practised Capoeira, excelled at wakeboarding, snowboarding, and skateboarding, and climbed with the county youth squad of Berlin. “I discovered my love for motorcycles when I was 15,” he says. “I got into trial motorcycling and become a trainer and guide for Enduro Motocross. I was on a motorcycle as often as I could be.” After completing his A levels, Yoshij started studying philosophy and German literature. “I financed my hobbies with voice acting. I only really started studying out of general interest. I would study and work during the week and follow my passion for motorsport at the weekends. And I went out to all the big clubs in Berlin where I knew a thousand people. It was perfect!”

Torn from Life 
The athlete becomes serious when he talks about the events that played out on June 17, 2014, two days after his 23rd birthday. It normally took him no more than five minutes to travel from his home to the dubbing studio. Yoshij rode his motorcycle past a green light at the 50km/h speed limit. “A truck in the opposite lane simply ignored all the traffic and turned left. It took my right of way. I didn’t stand a chance.” His account is 100 per cent in line with the official police report. Yoshij’s condition was critical, and he owes his survival to mere chance. An ambulance was parked just around the corner and was able to reach the scene of the accident within a few minutes. “At exactly that time, a paramedic who had spent a long time in the cardiac surgery department of Berlin’s Charité hospital was on duty.

The traffic-light controlled junction where Yoshij had his accident.
The traffic-light controlled junction where Yoshij had his accident. 

“My vertebrae were injured; I had a thorax and brain trauma, and my broken ribs had punctured my lungs. Luckily, the paramedic with his vital experience knew how to apply the respiration technique correctly. He saved my life.” Yoshij was admitted to hospital with serious injuries. “After the accident, I was unconscious. I underwent emergency surgery and was then placed in an artificial coma for three weeks. All body functions were shut down.” When he finally woke up, he had all but forgotten his previous life.

Injured Spinal Cord
In the following weeks, the voice actor was haunted by severe panic attacks. “After two months, I was transferred to Belitz for earlystage rehab work. I still needed artificial respiration at that point. I woke up and didn’t know where I was for weeks. I’d feel an urge to run away, scream, and fall back asleep again.” Then he started to remember his past. He began to recognise his mother and Lulu, his sister. “I noticed a beautiful young woman at my bedside and figured that she must be my girlfriend.” His family and friends repeatedly tried to help Yoshij remember what had happened. They told him that he had been seriously injured in an accident. They tried to help him come to terms with the fact that he would remain paralysed from the chest down for the rest of his life. “Slowly but surely, I realised that my spinal cord was injured beyond repair. I began to realise that I couldn’t feel or move anything below where my spinal cord was broken,” he remembers with a blank look on his face.

Loss of Freedom 
Yoshij went through seven months of rehabilitation. “There were only three people younger than 40 in the facility. Eighty per cent of the people there were stroke patients. I couldn’t bear that I actually belonged there. I often thought it would have been better if I had been killed in the accident.” Yoshij slowly regained full consciousness. “The clearer I became in my head, the more I felt the loss. I became more and more aware of what I could no longer do and what I will never be able to do again due to my spinal cord injury.” One of the worst blows was the realisation that the spinal cord injury would prevent any future involvement in motorsport. “I had spent years jumping all over the place and I used to feel so free everywhere I went. I imagined a jump in my head and I was able to go and make it happen. I have lost that ability forever.” Yoshij returned home nine months after his injury. Countless friends, who had already visited him in hospital and at the rehabilitation clinic, continued to pop round to talk about the past and make plans for the future. “I still can’t fully remember my girlfriend from that time. Today, our contact is minimal,” he says.

Hope for Cure
Yoshij is still unable to return to work and university. His head injuries were too severe, so he is still struggling with his limited memory capacity and the serious consequences of his spinal cord injury. However, his aim is to return to the voice acting business soon and possibly even go on to directing. He puts all his hope in Wings for Life. “Spinal cord injuries should not enslave us for the rest of our lives. I strongly believe that research is progressing and that some kind of cure will be found. I don’t care if it takes 10 or 15 years, as long as my life can be like the life I loved so much before my accident.”

Help us finding a cure for spinal cord injury. Here you can donate to Wings for Life. 100% of all donations will go towards funding cutting-edge spinal cord research projects.