When Till Raab takes part in the Wings for Life World Run in Munich next May, it will mark another major milestone on the road to recovery for the former roofer and amateur footballer whose life was turned upside down 10 years ago by “the worst birthday present anyone could ask for.”
It was June 29, 2007, exactly one month before his 30th birthday, when Raab fell from the roof of a house where he was working and landed on his back.
“I knew immediately it was a spinal cord injury,” he says. “I just couldn’t move my legs.”
Raab was an active man – a roofer by trade; a footballer, skier and tennis player by choice. He was good, too, playing soccer at a decent level for a local team near his home in Germany.
The fall put a sudden halt to all that. For three months he could barely move, and it was six months before he left hospital. He went home in a wheelchair just before Christmas, his past life in ruins, his mind filled with unanswerable questions.
“At first, you think ‘Why, why, why?’” Raab recalls. “‘Why did this happen to me?’ The first few years were very difficult. My legs wouldn’t move at all – it was so hard.
“But slowly you start to think, ‘Ok, I have to live with it and do the best I can.’”
It took two years before he was ready to train. Then, “step-by-step,” Raab began to move – a little at first: his right leg, then his left. In time, he managed to stand, and, three years after his devastating fall, Till Raab took his first small steps.
“Just standing up like ‘a normal person’ was a fantastic feeling,” he remembers. “And when I made my first steps, it was unbelievable.”
Now, with two sticks for support and a lot of hard work behind him, on his best days Raab can move around his home “wheelchair free.” He has climbed 10 steps and walked two kilometers at the gym. He’s recovered some of his old life, too – he learned to sit-ski and recently quit his “boring” office job to train as a sit-ski instructor.
It’s been a long, seemingly endless road – but Raab insists he’s far from finished, for although the wheelchair has become his “daily friend,” his dream is still to walk, “to heal.”
“Life isn’t awful in a wheelchair,” he says. “I can go skiing with my friends again. But walking is walking. It’s different.”
Raab jumped at the chance to volunteer when he heard about the 2016 Wings for Life World Run in Munich. He spent the day on May 8 handing out bib numbers, bananas and energy drinks while lapping up the infectious atmosphere.
“It was all about fun and sport,” he says. “And it was great knowing people were all doing it for the cause.” For his cause.
Raab decided there and then to return in 2017 – not only to volunteer, but to take part, too, alongside a team of physios and fellow wheelchair users he’s recruiting. The race on May 7 will be less than three months before his 40th birthday; less than two from the 10th anniversary of his accident, and he says that beyond pursuing his own dream of regaining the ability to walk, “I can do this for others.”
If I get to 8 or 10 kilometers before the Catcher Car gets me, that would be good – but the most important thing is to make money for Wings for Life,” Raab states. “My life has changed completely; without my wheelchair now I have no chance. Perhaps if I help Wings for Life, in time people with spinal cord injuries can walk again. That’s the motivation for me.”
You can help people like Till. Registration is open now for all locations of the 2017 Wings for Life World Run.
Hayley Newman, participant 2015