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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Glen Christiansen Makes Miracles

He was done. He was out. And it looked like he might never come back.

Glen Christiansen had collapsed down a flight of stairs. By the looks of his crumbled body at the bottom of the stairs and his damaged brain through x-rays, it appeared unlikely that the Swedish Olympian was ever coming back.

The life out of the extroverted coach had been sucked out of him in one inexplicably unfortunate accident.

But as Christiansen had always encouraged his athletes, friends and son Noa, he was not about to quit. He was not giving up on life. He fought as best he knows and willed his way back to health. But the process was tough as he was given only a 30% chance to live by the doctors who treated him. At the very least, Christiansen was most probably going to be mentally incapacitated for the rest of his life.

But miracles happen.

He thought of his young son and used the same willpower that he had called upon to become an Olympian.

After waking up from his coma in the hospital, Christiansen told himself, "I will get well, but I must take it step-by-step with patience. This is a challenge for me."

He knew he was lucky. But he also knew that he needed to combine the opportunity to come back with significant effort.

"I survived due to my physical fitness and my willpower, fighting spirit - so the doctors say. As I woke up after the coma, my first thought went to my little son Noe. I knew that I MUST win this one."

Like many things in his remarkably optimistic life, Christiansen battled every day, every rehabilitation session. He utilized his doctor's pessimistic predictions as motivation. He wanted to prove the medical analysis wrong and make his life better. But he faced paralysis on his left side and an initial inability to speak. The powerfully built body that he had trained daily for over 50 years since his youth had taken the most traumatic hit in its life.

After a lifetime of moving gracefully through the water, lifting weights, and running, he suddenly could not move his left side. After a post-Olympic career of coaching, lecturing, and laughing, he suddenly could not talk. Trapped into this weakened state where he split his skull from ear to ear, he fortunately still could think clearly. And pushed himself as much as he ever had before. He needed to get better, not only for himself, but also for his son Noe.

Gradually, Christiansen started to make believers of his own doctors. Every day he progressed bit by bit. He knew he faced the biggest challenge of his life, but he convinced himself, "I will get well, but I must take it step-by-step with patience. I have a long way to go, but I find the strength." And he did recover, finding strength and mobility where few gave him a chance. His doctor remarked, "Normally Glen would be hospitalized 6-8 months after injuries like this. We never seen anything like it".

Three months after his crippled body was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, Christiansen swam in the open water in Beirut. Christiansen was characteristically optimistic, "Being in Beirut, I met all these kids and adults who have been praying for me. They give me so much energy that I decided today to go out and swim with them in the ocean. It was a fantastic feeling and I am so happy. I need to recover and rest a lot these days. It will take time before I am as strong as before. But that is OK. After all, I am alive and swimming."

Six months after his traumatic accident, Christiansen estimates he is 80% recovered. "I´m back racing. I won an international open water race in the river Elbe outside of Hamburg: the Hamburger Freiwasserschwimmen 2.5 km in 35 minutes, out-swimming a group of 19-20 year old competitive swimmers. It was a great feeling. People were really excited and happy. Me too. It was my first race since the accident. I swam under a club name I invented: Noe's Papa."

From being down and out in winter with a paralyzed left side and not being able to move or speak properly, Christiansen is now back swimming well - strong and grateful to everyone. He also continues to travel around the world, from Japan to Lebanon, giving clinics, coaching athletes, and even writing a book about swimming, Schwimmen.

Noe's Papa indeed.

For his miraculous recovery from a traumatic injury, Christiansen was nominated for
Glen Christiansen was crumbled at the bottom of the stairs with blood oozing from his ears, nose, and eyes. For nearly 4 weeks, he was in a coma, and for weeks later he remained in intensive care with a bacterial infection. When he woke, his entire left side was paralyzed and he could not talk. Yet the 1980 Swedish Olympian was not about to prove his doctor’s prognostications correct by never talking or walking again. Instead, he acted like a warrior and went to battle with his weakened and traumatized body. He had a tremendous spirit and will to improve and return to coaching swimmers. Within 6 months, Christiansen was back coaching and competing in the open water against people half his age. For his positive mindset, his inspiration to never give up in spite of traumatic physical setbacks, for his example of following his own advice as a coach and motivator, Glen Christiansen is a worthy nominee for the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

The WOWSA Awards, sponsored by the World Open Water Swimming Association, is an annual recognition of the world's best open water swimmers, coaches, crew members, pilots, writers, associations, services and products in four different categories.

The nominees for the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year are always an heroic and courageous group of individuals with exceptionally inspirational exploits, histories and lifestyles. This year presents an especially accomplished field of individuals. The WOWSA Awards are not necessarily only for the best athletes, but are meant to honor the men and women who:

* best embody the spirit of open water swimming,
* possess the sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance that open water swimmers are known for, and
* have most positively influenced the world of open water swimming in any calendar year.

The 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year nominees include:

1. Alexander Brylin, Ice Swimmer from Siberia (Russia)
2. Damián Blaum, Around The World Marathoner (Argentina)
3. Darren Miller, Achieving the Oceans Seven (U.S.A.)
4. Doug Woodring, Energetic Environmentalism (Hong Kong)
5. Glen Christiansen, Recovering from Trauma (Sweden)
6. Jim McConica, Ageless Wonder (U.S.A.)
7. Jose Diaz, Horizontes Sin Fronteras (Spain)
8. Mally Richards, 60 Years In The Making (South Africa)
9. Oussama Mellouli, Olympic Ambassador (Tunisia)
10. Pádraig Mallon, Extraordinaire Event Director & Swimmer (Ireland)
11. Rafael Gutiérrez Mesa, Getting Things Strait in Gibraltar (Spain)
12. Thomas Lurz, World Champion (Germany)
13. Tomi Stefanovski, Mastering the Traversee (Macedonia)
14. Vojislav Mijić, Tirelessly Resilient Race Director (Serbia)
15. Wayne Riddin, Midmar Mile Miracle (South Africa)

Online voting takes place here.

Upper photo shows Glen Christiansen south of Tokyo at a Japan International Open Water Swimming Association race. Second photo shows the cover of his new book Schwimmen. Third photo show Christiansen with his son Noe. Bottom photo shows Christiansen with swimmers in Beirut.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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