Rüdiger Böhm lost both of his legs the day before his 27th birthday, but he fought his way back. Now he helps others to push their limits while continuing to push his own. His latest project: sailing from Gibraltar to Palermo in 30 days.
Tanned, self-assured, and with far too much gel in his hair – for a long time, Rüdiger Böhm was the living embodiment of every soccer player cliché. “I was a vain, cocky sort of guy, obsessed with my appearance,” he admits candidly. This extreme sportsman was born in Odenwald, Germany on April 22, 1970. Sport was everything to him from a very early age, so it was hardly surprising that he chose to study sports science in Darmstadt after leaving school. He worked in a restaurant and a gym and as a youth football trainer on the side.
Rüdiger’s student life was perfectly normal – right up until April 21, 1997. The day before his 27th birthday, he had an accident that changed his life forever. Taking his brand-new racing bike for a spin, he was delighted with how it performed, but he was hit by a truck 45 minutes into the ride. “The truck came from behind at an intersection with poor visibility and ran me over. Its front wheel went straight over my legs,” he recalls. He was conscious throughout and even told the paramedics what to do – until he passed out from the blood loss.
At the hospital, the doctors discovered that the arteries in Rüdiger’s legs had been torn to pieces and gave him a 2% chance of survival. He underwent a 13-hour operation and remained in an artificially induced coma for more than a month. He survived, but both of his legs had to be amputated. After that, he had to relearn even the simplest things like standing up unaided, taking a shower, cleaning his teeth, and much more. “I felt like I’d never be able to take another step without someone helping me,” he admits. He grasped this new situation quite quickly in his mind, but his feelings needed more time. He explains that it’s important to be sad and to let your emotions out, adding, “If you bottle it up or ignore it, it’ll catch up with you in 10 or 15 years.”
“I never put my life on the line. I like being alive too much for that.”
A brief phase of resignation was quickly followed by a grand dream of being able to return to sport. That meant getting used to his prosthetic legs and learning to walk again. He worked tirelessly, training every day and putting in extra hours in physiotherapy. Thanks to his strong will and patience, Rüdiger fought his way back and became even more committed to sport than he was before the accident.
It began to play an important role in his career again: Rüdiger was the first soccer coach with no legs to be awarded the highest level of license by the German Football Association. After more than ten years working in soccer, he gave it up and made a bold move into self-employment as a public speaker and mental coach. Now he helps others to make the most of their potential and allow their personality to grow.
It’s not in Rüdiger’s nature just to do a little bit of sport. In summer 2017, his Follow the River project took him on a journey of more than 2,000 km by kayak and racing bike. It may sound crazy to people who don’t know him, but he sees it as perfectly normal. “People measure challenges by their own abilities and comfort zones,” he says with conviction. Follow the River was just one project among many. “Sometime after the kayak challenge, the idea of sailing came to me, and it just clicked,” he says. In the back of his mind, he knew that his good friend Lars Kyprian used to be a force to be reckoned with in competitive sailing regattas. Lars was less than enthusiastic about the sailing idea, but he agreed to go for a trial run on Lake Garda. Both men were so taken with the experience that they soon came up with the idea for the GP Challenge 2020.
Soccer coach, mental trainer, extreme sportsman – Rüdiger is truly multi-talented. However, he was completely new to sailing. He had his first outing on a racing catamaran with Lars on Lake Garda in the summer of 2018. Despite some choppy water, he took to it well and kept calm in tricky situations. “Obviously, I didn’t know all the moves, but I learned quickly with Lars on board,” he says. Thanks to his past experience as a windsurfer, Rüdiger didn’t take long to understand how the boat needed to be placed in relation to the wind.
Rüdiger has long since taken leave of the “cocky sort of guy” he used to be. These days, he strives to inspire others and give them the courage to believe in themselves and their abilities. “I want to be an example of what’s possible, and I want to help others push their own boundaries through coaching,” he explains.
But what motivates him to keep setting himself these challenges? His answer: “New experiences expand your comfort zone.” Rüdiger says that he has always been the kind of person who relishes a challenge as long as it involves a plan. He insists that he isn’t an adrenaline junkie: “I never put my life on the line. I like being alive too much for that.”