Stefan Keller is a paragliding instructor and coach. He has been paraplegic since 2013. Hundreds of interested UBS employees recently accepted the invitation from our disAbility network to attend his talk.
Stefan Keller’s life changed dramatically on June 26, 2013. He was out with a group of paragliding students. Shortly after taking off, he found himself caught up in unexpected thermal turbulence. Within a few fractions of a second, his paraglider collapsed and he plunged 20 meters toward the ground. Fortunately, he fell on some steep terrain which cushioned his landing. The air rescue service arrived within 15 minutes and took him directly to Bern university hospital. The first thing Stefan can remember after his accident is waking up in the recovery room following his operation and being told by the doctor how lucky he’d been.
A paragliding student had filmed the accident, so Stefan was able to analyze all the details, including weather data. This convinced him that the unfortunate thermal could not have been predicted. If he had set off just one second earlier or later, the accident would probably never have happened.
“I’m still here. So life goes on.” Stefan used this thought to motivate himself while he was still in hospital. But the highest vertebra of his spinal cord had been damaged, and he had to get used to a new life as a paraplegic. After one month, he was transferred to the Swiss Paraplegic Centre in Nottwil. Here he received holistic rehabilitation, both physical and mental. He learned not to worry about the past or the future, but simply to deal with the present. The most important thing is to stay positive, instead of always only seeing the negative side. He advised our employees to start adjusting their way of thinking now, since “your attitude doesn’t change automatically due to a twist of fate”. It’s not easy to do, and wasn’t simple for Stefan either. But one thing was clear to him: "I want to fly again!”
Stefan had to embark on a long and difficult journey. The rehabilitation, which he also regarded as an “exploration phase”, was often fun. He learned how to take his wheelchair on an escalator, for instance. It wasn’t enjoyable all the time though, and he suffered a lot of setbacks. He had to undergo countless operations. And his relationship didn’t survive this phase of turbulence. However, he did not see this is a completely negative development. Firstly, he understood the huge pressure his partner was facing. And secondly, the break-up gave him the opportunity to design his “second life”, as he describes it, the way he wanted to. For him, this “valley of tears” was an important step forward. This was the only way in which he could ultimately accept his new situation. “Today I have a better life”, he says.
Just eleven months after his accident, he realized his dream of going up in a paraglider again – and since then he has enjoyed many flights and tackled many more challenges.