Michael Kröner – to the Sports Studies by wheelchair

portait m. kroener (Photo: Michael Kröner)
Currently Michael Kröner completes a correspondence course at the Open University Business School (Photo: Michael Kröner)

Michael Kröner has been using a wheelchair since he damaged his T3 vertebrae in a serious car accident in 1992. This however does not appear to be a disability for the now 36 year old Michael. He is a successful skier and handbiker, and in 2001 he was the first German student with a mobility impairment to complete a sports degree at a German University.

From a wheelchair magazine, Michael Kröner learned about the Sports University in Cologne where it would be possible to enroll for a sports degree with his disability. After a suitability test and long discussions, he would finally be the first paraplegic student to be admitted to the course.

A lot of support in his studies

During his studies he got a lot of support from his lectures and from his fellow students, and especially from the then School President Prof. Joachim Mester. Because Michael was active in disabled sports before commencing his studies, some of the faculty members and students who were also involved with disabled sports knew him already.

Indeed, Michael was already a serious competitor even before his accident. So it was only a matter of time before he would “step back in the ring“; subsequently it took three years before he could take that step. „Initially I wasn’t so sure because I didn’t want to start again from scratch", recalls the avid sportsman. However the longing for the mountains and need to be together with his family and friends were greater than his fear of a new beginning and so he took his first ski lesson.

On a winning path

Two years later in 1997, he participated in a competition once again. In the same year he became German champion. The following year, he participated at the 1998 Winter Paralympics in Nagano, Japan and finished 8th in the Super-G and 9th in the Slalom event. And in Salt Lake City 2002, he took home a bronze medal.

The Paralympian relays his enthusiasm: “The freedom, the speed, and the satisfaction after the physical exertion are the things that I love about sport”.

Obviously, winters sports alone were not enough, so in 2000, Michael joined Sunrise Medical in Malsh, near Heidelberg as support in the product management department. Here, he became aware of the Handbike- Team SOPUR and so Michael discovered handbiking; the topic that he would later write his thesis on.

After graduating from the German Sports University in 2001, he finally moved to the European Product Management Department at Sunrise Medical. The firm specialises in medical technology and modern sports wheelchairs and handbikes. Currently, Michael is undertaking a distance learning course at the Open University Business School.

Kroener on his handbike (Photo: Beatrix Polgar-Stüwe)
Kröner loves the sport, the freedom, speed and satisfaction after the physical work (Photo: Beatrix Polgar-Stüwe)

Success developed

Success, however, did not simply fall into Michael’s lap. After his accident, the then 18-year-old also had to overcome some difficulties. "My biggest problem was definitely trying to find a new role or identity as a person with a disability, to define myself, to build up my self-esteem and also to build up and value my self-confidence."

These things really only became clear for him with the benefit of hindsight. As a teenager he found structural barriers in buildings to be bigger obstacles. The stairs at school, in the disco and in the gym as well as in his parents’ house made returning from the rehabilitation clinic – where he spent six months –  to his old environment very difficult.

Psychological and structural adjustments

After some small renovations, the family home was made wheelchair accessible. Even in school some swift adjustments were made to cater for Michael’s new life: "At school, with great support from the school directors, teaching staff and classmates, there was always a way found to assist my (re-)integration."

They used classrooms that he could access easily with his wheelchair and also in physical education class; everything was tailored individually to suit him. For both sides, it was a new situation but they have mastered it together.

Achieved his original goals

Back when Michael Kröner was still in the hospital, he set goals to finish high school and to find new hobbies that would be fun to do. He has already achieved both of these goals. "One should try everything - have no fear of new challenges and thus no limits," is the advice he offers his fellow travellers on the road.

Text & Translation: MPL

Pictures: Michael Kröner / Beatrix Polgar-Stüwe