Beat Thoeni

Beat Thoeni has been paralyzed since an alpine wrestling accident in 1960 despite of this; he copes with his life with confidence and tremendous fortitude.

For the ride in the pony trap from Wyler to the Brünig, five-year-old Beat is allowed to sit up next to the driver. He is terribly excited and rubs nervously on his Sunday shorts. His mother is also dressed in her Sunday best and looks enchanting. His father doesn’t hide his admiration and plants a hearty kiss on his pretty wife’s cheek. All in all, this August morning in 1938 is not like a normal day. In a few hours’ time it’s the start of the Brünig alpine wrestling contest, and father Thöni is the referee. He looks down affectionately at the boy sitting next to him, the youngest of his three sons, and murmurs “…a future wrestling champion”, then picks up the rains and with a “giddy up” the horses set off at a brisk trot.

Alpine wrestling has been a family tradition for generations, of that you can be sure. This passion for the Swiss national sport has deep roots, and they are nurtured with pride. For Beat, aggressive competition has been a way of life since his earliest childhood.

Blessed with talent

Discreetly but attentively, his father watches his son’s first wrestling matches and is soon convinced: “Beat is a natural born wrestler.” Life in Gadmental is rugged and down to earth, and shapes the growing boy’s body and character in exactly the same way. There’s no fancy training and no special diet for champion sportsmen. His parents have a farm; run a haulage business and a grocery and general store, which saves the residents of Wyler the trip down to Innertkirchen. At home Beat has to lend a hand with everything, both on the farm and with the heavy wood transports by tractor and trailer. He only gets the chance to wear his wrestling pants in his free time. But his talent is obvious and he is soon famous all over the valley. At 12 years old he makes it to the last round of a junior wrestling competition.  He loses the round, but not his fighting spirit. The youth with fledgling talent grows into a strong young man with broad shoulders, powerful hands, striking, handsome features and a good-natured, winning smile. A face that which is once seen, is never forgotten. It’s not long before this amiable son of the soil becomes one of the “tough guys” and has no opponents left to fear. Garlands, bells and trophies adorn the parlour. He is obviously on the brink of a great wrestling career.

From one moment to the next…

On August 7, 1960, Beat Thoeni reaches the last round of the traditional Brünig wrestling contest. The weather is not ideal. A violent storm has brought much cooler temperatures, and the sawdust is sticky and compacted. Although he started well, Beat doesn’t feel at his best. He shakes his limbs as though testing their flexibility. Today he is determined to win. His opponent is none other than several times wrestling champion Karl Meli. The audience is in a fever of excitement. You can almost feel the tension. Both men are panting from the straining. Neither is giving way to the other, they are equally matched in muscle power, agility, and can react in a split second where it counts. Who will make the first mistake? All of a sudden – after a hefty swing – Beat Thöni falls heavily, directly on his head. His spinal column cracks: a sound that he will never forget. His powerful body falls into the sawdust with a thud – he doesn’t move. A whisper runs through the crowd and then suddenly fades away. An eerie silence carries the unspoken question: “…surely he’s going to stand up…?” Beat Thöni doesn’t stand up. He will never stand up again – this crushing realization, horrifies him.