Das Rennen meines Lebens
|Product Type Name||ABIS_BOOK|
|Title||Das Rennen meines Lebens|
|Number Of Pages||433|
Table of Contents
- A Healing Narrative
- Between Hope and Depression
- The Reality of Healing from Trauma
- His Greatest Victories
This is not your usual sports book.
I found Hermann Maiers’s Das Rennen meines Lebens (The Race of My Life) much more intense, serious and confessional than the excerpts promoting it on the website of Profil, a weekly Austrian magazine that has excellent coverage of World Cup skiing.
It is also a very different book from the one portrayed in early reviews of “Rah-rah” alpine ski racing fans at Amazon.de, the German version of Amazon.com.
What makes it so good is that it is not another generic fairy tale about an injured sports star suffering an orthopedic injury, having surgery, going through arduous physical therapy, and then, seemingly as a matter of normal events, resuming championship form.
Maier, with the help of Knut Okresek, has given us a “healing narrative” that deserves serious consideration. Das Rennen explores life-threatening trauma, near permanent dismemberment, and the personal impact of media distortion and peer jealousy
Well conceived, clearly organized, simply and directly written, with excellent photographs and supporting material, Das Rennen is a “healing narrative” that takes us into Maier’s transformation from youthful hero to mature athlete. Follow this text and you will see Maier’s passage from unwitting victim to active healer as he copes with the physical, psychological, spiritual and social traumas from nearly losing both his life and lower right leg.
Interspersed with the chronological theme of healing, Maier gives us autobiographical sidebars that enrich our understanding of this intelligent and complex person. These include the ’98 Nagano Olympics, his father, his breakthrough to the Europa Cup circuit, his mistaken arrest in Vail in 1999 for auto theft, and several interviews.
Along the path to healing, Maier makes it clear that he met wonderful doctors, hospital staff and patients who suffered he worse than he did.
As Maier writes:
So, against the media and some ski world colleagues, Maier focuses his response:
If you are waiting for a heroic story with typical sports clichés, I’ve got a surprise for you. The story I tell is as real as my scars. That is my point. How many misunderstandings do I have to read about [in the press] regarding my comeback? Suddenly, victories should seem, as before, a matter of course. And people whispered behind my back, “He’s only got a broken leg.” Even colleagues tried to downplay the seriousness of my injuries.
In a narrative of self-analysis and public revelation, we see, for the first time, Maier talking to us about what is, under the skin of his right leg, a permanent deformity that brought him to face the eternal psychological and spiritual agonies: “Why me?” and “Why this?”
I gladly let the facts speak against these unfair statements: after the crash, my lower leg hung merely by a little bit of skin and tissue. But, from a medical point of view, that wasn’t the biggest problem: my body’s function collapsed. I was on the verge of kidney collapse, my liver was all over the place and my nerves were ripped out to the point that I couldn’t even move my “healthy” left leg. And my hemoglobin levels were so low that even the easiest tasks like eating and speaking were overwhelming. I was praying that my body wouldn’t reject the transplant. I lay in intensive care for 137 hours and had to learn to move all over again (pp. 8-9).
On August 24, 2001, Hermann Maier, Olympic alpine ski champion, had his right leg nearly cut off, except for a small bit of skin and a few fibers, in an accident on an Austrian mountain road. With photos, diagrams and textual explanation, Maier tells how a “red Mercedes with German plates” turned left illegally in front of his motorcycle as he changed lanes to go around it.
Maier describes what happened:
He further describes himself screaming, “Call a doctor! Call a doctor! Call for help! A helicopter! My foot is off, but I need it to work again!”
A moment later everything changed. I was in the ditch holding my thigh. People who came forward at the accident scene must have seen a grim picture: Bones were sticking out of my jeans, blood everywhere—and a foot that was no longer attached. My sneaker was torn away from me. I only saw my shredded sock. Things didn’t look good! Only a few fibers were holding my ankle. I was in shock. What did I feel at that moment? Hard to describe. I could cope with the pain, but I knew that it had really gotten to me (p. 15).
Traumatic, for sure. Maier’s injury was severe. His physical state would, in the coming days, become dire. Yet, he takes issue with the press, because accounts coming over the wire simply describe him having a broken leg.
For instance, we read:
Hermann Maier broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident.
Maier wants readers to know that his lower right leg was effectively severed. In fact, after the helicopter trip to Salzburg for surgery, he asked, “When can I ski again?”
Late Friday, Maier suffered multiple injuries, including a complicated open bone fracture….
“You don’t need to think about that for a long time!”
He confesses, “At that moment I knew that the depth of my injury.” It wasn’t simply about the coming Olympics in Salt Lake. He wondered if he’d ever walk again.
The photos Maier includes in the text are graphic. He includes photos and x-rays of before and after surgery. Part of the surgery entailed transplanting a 13 x 6 centimeter skin and muscle graft from his left upper arm to his injured right leg. The transplant itself included microsurgery to attach this “flap” to the veins of his lower leg. The prognosis for this procedure was complicated by the fact that paint chips in his leg muscle from the accident that might kill his leg muscle. Doctors set his bone with a titanium rod fastened in his leg with four screws.
When he awoke, fearing his leg had been amputated, he asked one of the nurses, “Is my leg still there?”
However, having his leg was only part of the battle. He lost his body control, his bearings, and had no idea what part of the hospital he was in.
With single rooms in intensive care, he was in one of six beds separated by a green curtain. All the patients were sleeping deeply. Although he was flattered that one of the patients, an older man, wanted “absolutely to see Hermann Maier,” Maier didn’t want to see or speak with anyone.
Falling into depression, one of the things that helped was his “gallows humor.” Soon after waking, he asked his doctor, “I’m so bad off that I’m almost gone?”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t look so good,” the doctor replied.
“What was it now?” Maier wondered.
The doctor was direct. His kidneys, nervous system, liver and blood count were extremely weak. Hermann Maier was fighting for his life.
At the same time, the papers, perhaps trying to put a positive spin on this whole mess, were talking about Maier “from catastrophe to comeback.”
As he makes clear throughout his story, survival and healing are not simply a biomechanical issue of using modern medicine to repair the problem.
Maier must learn to cope with the complex emotions and feeling that come with any tragedy. It is not easy.
For instance, while in intensive care, he starts to lose muscle mass. Afraid, depressed, but not willing to give up, he insists on starting physical therapy then and there. Three weeks later, he leaves the hospital in Salzburg, riding home in a car, right past the place where he had his accident, experiencing a disquieting déjà vu. After arriving home, he now admits that he was “blinded by ambition” to compete in the coming Salt Lake Olympics that would take place in a little over four months. This would not happen.
To his credit, Maier is strong enough to open his heart, showing us a much more complex and vulnerable side. Through him, we see that his healing is not especially neat, linear, painless and without deep emotional cross-currents.
This point is reinforced by Lance Armstrong, himself a victor over cancer, who writes in his Forward to Das Rennen: “I think Hermann will help many people with this book, particularly those, who after serious misfortune, have lost hope (p. 7).”
Maier’s message here is central, because, in the main, the public side of modern culture does not understand how many people are incapacitated from severe illness, crippling accidents and permanent disabilities. Trauma takes it toll.
With admirable openness, Maier, one of the great athletes of our age, helps us learn through his experience with the devastating psychological and spiritual implications of trauma, near death and a potential lifetime disability. While this takes place, our seemingly invulnerable champion has to face the harsh social realities of media distortion and unsympathetic ski community peers who minimize the extent of his injuries.
By October 6, just six weeks after the accident, things get even more complicated. Maier writes:
My inner battle became even more dramatic. My mistreated body demanded painkillers, but the athlete in me cried, “Enough already!” Drugs and training don’t mix well. Therefore, I decided to stop the medicine from one day to another. A test. I had to break it off, stop being so desperate. The pain had become so unbearable, I was acting like a junkie. Desperate, I would try, after the liberating injection, to stop shaking. Then, I’d try to sleep for a few hours. During the day, I would grab for the painkillers. I really began to like them. By now, I really didn’t understand that I was hooked. Because when the stuff no longer worked, I’d increase the dose. Otherwise, I couldn’t get it done (p. 110).
As ski racing fans know, Maier got back on his skis. He competed , for the first time in year-and-a-half, in a Giant slalom at Adelboden in Switzerland on January 14, 2003. He didn’t finish his second run. But, eleven days later, he won the Super G at the capital of alpine ski racing, Kitzbühel, Austria. The next week, he finished second in the Super G at the 2003 World Championships in St. Moritz.
Maier, with tears in his eyes, calls his Super G win at Kitzbühel, “The best of my life.”
In the 2003-2004 season, down to the wire with Austrian teammates Stephan Eberharter and Benni Raich, plus the USA’s own Bode Miller, Maier would win the Overall. He could once again claim the title of best skier on the planet. And for his efforts he was awarded, in the summer of 2004, the Laureus World Sports Award for the "Comeback of the Year."
Let’s hope this book shows up in English on American bookshelves before too long!
Marc Cirigliano, a.k.a. Nightcat, read the book in German. He does not think it will be published in English any time soon, so we are especially appreciative of his contribution to our Premium Articles section.