Vojtěch Vašíček: I used to ask why this happened to me. Today I take injury as a mission
He was born in Hodonin in 1956. He grew up in nearby Mutěnice, after primary school he trained as an electrician in Kroměříž. During the holidays after training, when Vojtěch was eighteen years old, he crashed on a motorcycle. According to police protocol, a hare ran into his path. “There were hairs in the front wheel at the time. But I don’t remember anything about it myself,” says Vojtěch Vašíček. He was left lying with three broken vertebrae in a ditch. That’s where his friends found him. “They were guys from work, just like me, they were coming back from the assembly. It was an accident at work. One person from the company then tried to reduce my compensation because I didn’t hand the hare over to a hunting association. That was the law at the time. But the judge swept it off the table at the time, saying she was bizarre,” recounts a bizarre story from just after the accident.
There’s nothing left to operate
Friends transported Vojtěch to a hospital in Kyjov. “When they found me in that ditch, I couldn’t tell I was hurt. And as they put me in the car holding me by hands and legs, a spinal cord injury most probably happened.” From Kyjov, they transported Vojtěch to the hospital in Brno. “When they looked at the scans, they knew there was nothing left to operat. The spinal cord was completely severed. They opted for so-called conservative treatment, which was common at the time. So no surgery. That means I don’t have my spine straightened, and the three vertebrae are crooked. Sometimes it makes me feel pain. But somehow, it’s manageable.”
Four hundred meters in six months
At the end of the year, he was transferred to a rehabilitation institute in Kladruby. There, the chief medical officer openly told him that no one could promise him that he would ever walk again. “But he told me that if I tried and cooperated, I’d walk four hundred meters in six months an hour. So I cooperated, tried, and worked on myself. I figured if I walked 400 meters, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t walk four kilometers.”
After three or four months, he understood what the chief medical officer had in mind. “I think I walked 400 meters. But I went under the supervision of a rehab therapist, rather than walking it was sneaking around. Two French sticks, with splints on paralyzed legs. Stomping on the floor by lightening the right and left parts of the pelvis. I went up the stairs, but I was pulling it all with my hands.”
In June, when he ended his stay in a rehabilitation institute, a concentration of disabled athletes was held in Kladruby. Vojtěch saw himself in sport, which, in his own words, became an engine for his next life.
From Mutěnice to Brno
In 1979 he moved to Brno with his then-wife. “I was lucky and managed to get one of the first barrier-free apartments, which were built in two blocks on Cosmonaut street. Until then, there was more of a tendency to lock people up in institutions after an accident or to move them to the periphery.” It wasn’t particularly comfortable in Brno either. “Education was not available because of barriers; employment was not any better. But as I was fully involved in sports, I still didn’t deal with these things very much.”
He bought his first rubber disc, a ball, and later a spear. “It competed mainly on our territory; sometimes we got to Poland, Hungary or East Germany. It was not until before the revolution that we got to the former Yugoslavia, where we met the then leader.”
Friends from abroad
“In 87, we organized a marathon in Brno, which came to the boys from West Germany. Among them is an Errol Marklein.” They became friends, and when the Germans were going back home, Errol said he would leave Vojtěch’s cart. “Until then, I hadn’t heard from him. It wasn’t until later that I learned that this Errol, by the way, a six-time Paralympic champion from Seoul and holder of several world records, didn’t like carts at the time. So he had a locksmith’s friend make a custom-made cart for himself. Narrower and more active center of gravity. His friends liked him, too. And so the company Sopur was founded, which by the time I got the cart from Errol, was already making dozens of carts a month.”
Preparing for games
In 1989 he set a new Czechoslovak record in the first year of the marathon in Heidelberg. The result was, among other things, cooperation on the promotion of Sopur trucks. “Then Errol gave me his training plan, which he kept before the games in Seoul, where he was the first. I held on to him, too. And in the results, I’ve gone up a lot.”
Although he won silver in the disc and bronze in the five-fight world championships in Asen, The Netherlands, in 1992, he did not travel to Barcelona as the favorite. “I was hoping that maybe a bronze crossbar could come out,” recalls Vojtěch Vašíček.
Five-fight under five circles
“My weakest discipline was the ball. I threw her to the limit of my maximum. In the javelin, it was a personal record, I did 200 decently as I trained.” After these disciplines, he was continuously seventh. His strongest discipline – the disc – moved him to fourth place. Before riding at fifteen hundred meters, he knew that the leading competitors were not doing nearly as well in this discipline as he did.
World Record Holder
“After the start, the home team’s Manuel Abal started as if it were only a 200. He set the pace, and we missed a piece. A German and a Frenchman followed him. And then me. As the gap between Abal and us began to widen, I decided to go on a fighter ride, and my friend from the US, Kevin Sunders, came to see me. At 700 meters, we reached Manuel. There was already a big gap behind us. I left my position to Kevin and rested behind him a little. Kevin tried to overtake Manuel, but he didn’t let go and increased the pace again. He knew he was competing for medals. I had the advantage that both Manuel and Kevin were behind me by 6 and 12 points before the 1500m, which makes it one and two seconds behind me on the 15th. I thought I’d give it a try in front of the target. And in the corner, I took the outside, longer track, which surprised both of my opponents. Two hundred meters in front of the goal, I got into the lead, and the last turn, I was already passing in the inside track to the first position. On the finish line, I crossed into the second track and checked the opponent after the eye; Manuel was commuting me on the inside track, but Kevin was already losing a little. When we intersected the target base at the same time, I didn’t know who was first, but I was sure that both Manuel and Kevin stayed behind me. The light board announced that a new world record had been set. When the board with the names and the order came on, something turned out that I hadn’t even hoped for before the final.” So Vojtěch became a golden Paralympian with a world record.
After Barcelona, he considered the end. “I was thirty-six, and I thought there was no point in measuring the forces with the much younger boys. In the end, they convinced me to try and get some sponsors. And so I started preparing for Atlanta.” He finished fourth in the discus throw and seventh in the five-game standings. “In the end, it turned out that the two competitors who placed in front of me in the disc had nothing to do in that category. Two years after Atlanta, they were transferred to the category with lesser disabilities. However, no one returned my medal.”
When he finished his professional career as an athlete, he began to devote himself to the full promotion of carts. He and his colleagues later founded Medico, a still-functioning retailer of compensatory equipment. “But the business wasn’t my purpose in life. Immediately after the revolution, I was at the birth of the Union of Paraplegics of the Czech Republic, and in 2003 its branch was established in Brno. And so the then civic association was formed, now the association ParaCENTRUM Fenix.
He replaced Luboš Krejčí as chairman of the association over time and remained in office until 2015. “There were health complications; I had thrombosis with lung embolism resulting in more than one-third of the lungs, I was banned from burdening the heart. And so I left it to the younger ones. I want to dedicate myself to my family, my grandchildren.”
Great family and a return to faith
The personal life of Vojtěch Vašíček also deserves mention. He has three sons from his first two marriages. Ten years ago, he married dr. Frantal, and he got a stepdaughter. “That’s the third and final try,” he says with a smile.
“I came from a religious family, but then I turned away from God. It took ten years to stop asking myself why this happened to me. I found my way to faith again after my first divorce.” He and his current wife, Liu, even promised love, respect, and loyalty in the church after a nine-year civil marriage.
Be responsible for yourself and the environment
“Just on Monday, I read in the holy father’s mind that one should be responsible first and for himself and then for the events around him. And I’ve kind of been sticking to that all my life. That’s why I started playing sports, which is why I was at the founding of Fenix, which is why I’ve now started on municipal politics. One should be involved and, within the means of trying to influence what is happening around you,” sums up his life approach. “People do things. And it’s important to be able to stand up to life so that one can be useful. I finally started to take the cart as a mission. This gave me opportunities to change the living conditions of the disabled for the better.”