My wife and sons propel me forward
Radek’s life did a 180 degree turn in 1994 when an Italian driver ran him over in a street in Prague. He says, “I have no recollection of the accident and the moments before – that’s in the dark. All I know is he was speeding. I woke up in a hospital bed two months later, bandages everywhere, my torso in a clamshell brace, my head in a halo brace. My movement was completely restricted, and I realized I could not move even if it wasn’t.” Radek was eight. Bedridden and paralyzed at the department of anesthesiology and resuscitation, he regarded his predicament as a challenge. “My understanding was I had to persevere through hardship to be able to move on. They instilled that kind of attitude in me.” For the little boy and his family, the conditions were drastic. “I have a fracture between the C1 and C2 vertebrae. There are very few who survive this injury. Frankly, the prognosis was for my demise. My mom later told me they had made her sign a consent form for the donation of my organs. When I began moving my left hand six months later, she was told it was the final spasm and that I was dying.” At first, Radek could not even breathe on his own and had to restore the function which is unconscious and effortless for most people most of the time. To this day, he sleeps with a ventilator. The capacity of his lungs is 2.5 liters, very low for an adult male.
Competitive by nature
Radek had to celebrate his ninth birthday in the hospital. After his release from the department of anesthesiology and resuscitation, he spent another year at the spinal injury unit in Košumberk. Afterwards, he went back to school and resumed regular attendance. “I always enjoyed studying so my grades were fine. What I found a little demotivating was observing how other kids could run around, do sports, and do anything at all without difficulty.” Competitive by nature, Radek took to playing chess, and he started beating schoolmates his age and older. “The game gave me some of my lost self-confidence back. It felt great to be good at something and live up to my peers.”
Every cloud has a silver lining
His parents’ marriage fell apart. While his mother spent all her waking hours taking care of Radek, his father began seeking out the company of other women. After the divorce, he and his mother moved to Kladno, where he finished elementary school. He underwent countless surgeries while growing up. His hips and knees had to be operated on. “My legs were growing crooked. To be able to walk, they frequently had to cut me open and straighten my limbs.” But every cloud has a silver lining, and that applies to Radek as well. As part of post-operative rehab, he returned to Košumberk in 2001 and discovered the world of parasports. He took on boccia – and just like before with chess, Radek the rookie started beating friends who had been playing the sport much longer. He enrolled in his first tournament and finished fifth, losing the quarterfinal to the then national champion. “Finally, I could be good at something. It motivated me to keep pressing forward,” says Radek. In two years, he became the Czech national champion and began representing the country in the international arena. Radek’s greatest individual victory has been first place at the 2009 European Championship. He also finished fourth at the 2006 world championship and sixth at the 2012 London Paralympics. He brought home silver and bronze medals from Paralympic pairs events.
My wife is my anchor
Thanks to boccia, Radek met his current wife Veronika who used to be a national boccia referee. They met in 2008, shortly before Radek left for his first Paralympics. Next, Radek took up studying economics. “On top of that, I had a day job. It all added up and affected my health, so in 2014, I ended up in the hospital in a medically induced coma. Once again, the doctors were saying I was dying. I was fortunate to come across a pulmonologist who recommended a device, thanks to which, coupled with exercise, I lost 25 kilos and got relatively fit,” Radek remarks. His wife Veronika always supported him along the way. Around the time, she delivered their firstborn son Tomáš. “I’ve always tried to work hard and make progress but they are the real motor propelling me forward.”
Restarting the body, recharging the battery
Although Radek’s sports career had to end due to his health issues a couple of years ago, nowadays he’s getting back into it. He coaches boccia players and he would like to compete internationally again. His condition will always be complicated, necessitating prolonged stays at one of the rehabilitative institutes from time to time, where Radek can restart the body and recharge his batteries, as he likes to put it. The interview for this story was conducted over the phone during his stay at the center in Kladruby. He doesn’t complain. He knows it’s essential if he wants to continue doing what he loves. Recently, his motivation to succeed and be there for his family got a major boost when his second son Lukáš was born.
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