Blind, skier and travel enthusiast: Meet Kristian is written by Stefan Slothuus.
Blind skier at full speed
- “It's like standing on top of a hill on a very foggy day. You then hold for your left eye, take the cardboard from a paper towel up in front of your right eye, turn it slightly to the right and look towards the end. That's pretty much how it is. ”
Thus, Kristian Schou Hedegaard describes his starting point when he drones down the piste on skis at high speed.
Kristian is a part of Paralympic Skiteam Denmark as visually impaired. He is blind in his left eye and has 10% vision in his right. However, he is much more than that. He is married and the father of a little girl and a little boy. He is self-employed and an entrepreneur with the project Move United, where he tries to make it easier for the blind and partially sighted to exercise. And then he is happy to travel.
Here is his story of traveling despite a disability.
Exchange and slum in Calcutta
We are in the year 2011, and Kristian gets the opportunity to take a semester as an exchange student on his master's degree.
- “Everyone went to United States on exchange. I would rather do something extreme and therefore tried India, where I was half a year in Calcutta. It is not a particularly popular destination. It was very slum and extremely poor. A huge city with officially 16-20 million inhabitants. Unofficially, however, there were close to 30 million, as they do not have numbers on the slums at all. "
It was an exciting and very educational stay in Calcutta, where the locals welcomed him and his fellow students on exchange. They always felt very welcome - even when they traveled around the country after the semester. Half a year after returning home to Denmark should Kristian's wife and then girlfriend collect data for his medical study in Ethiopia.
- “We had a really good experience in India. That was also why I did not hesitate to travel with my wife to Ethiopia to have even more experiences. ”
A dirty burger in Ethiopia
It was also an exciting trip Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the stay ended tragically with a bad burger a few days before the plane brought them back to Denmark.
- “After eating a bad burger, I got sick with vomiting and diarrhea, but I actually got well again shortly after. Then a few more days go by, and there I start to get some gray spots on my eyes. ”
The morning after returning to Denmark, Kristian therefore went to the eye doctor - but without the big worries.
- “I actually thought I should just have some eye drops and quickly move on to work. The doctor then examines my eyes, turns completely pale in the face, squeezes me on the shoulder and says: "Good luck - we will have to hospitalize you urgently."
Over the next two months, Kristian became almost blind. He lost 90% of his sight and kidney function due to an illness caused by a bacterium in his burger. After a long course of medication, dialysis and a kidney transplant, the disease was put on hold.
- “It was a hell of a lot. My family was nervous about whether I would get out of there alive at all. I was actually just lying and wondering if I would get my sight back. ”
Ridiculous airport policy and American super service for an almost blind
Kristian completed his thesis after the course of the disease and got a job. He had not lost the desire to travel either. Previously, he was attracted to relatively unorthodox destinations in Asia og Africa, but now his situation was different with his limited vision.
After his accident, Kristian has traveled a lot around Europe, Greenland, Thailand og United States, but he has often had to cancel scheduled trips due to illness caused by his kidney medicine. He is also dependent on the help of others in certain situations on his travels.
- “When I have to fly, I call the airport to book a companion. Then they make a wheelchair available because I'm blind. It's a little ridiculous, because there's nothing wrong with motor; I do not see very well, but I can easily walk. It is obviously a policy that one should have a wheelchair if one needs a companion. It often just ends up that person walks next to me with the wheelchair.'"
However, Kristian lives with it, and he is definitely not deterred from traveling. He has not experienced any problems on his travels that could not be resolved quickly. On the contrary. People are generally extremely helpful when they see him walking with his cane.
- “In the US, they take it to the extreme. Once my boyfriend and I were going home from the airport JFK in New York, and there are a billion people. People around us talk about standing in line for hours. Suddenly, an employee sees me with my cane and asks us to come with him. Then he guides us through the whole queue and shouts loudly: "Beware, a blind man is coming!". We are both relatively humble, so it was nice to be at the front of the queue, but also bordering on the embarrassing. ”
- “Another time at Rockefeller Center we had to go through 'security'. My bag is bumbling and bumbling, red lights are flashing and all that. I think oh no. Then he shouts behind the screen: "Never mind, he is disabled!". So the United States is a fun place to travel. ”
Life as blind: Forget I can not see
One of Kristian's great passions is that skiing, which he has cultivated since he was three years old. It was also one of the first things he wondered about after his accident; whether he could ever ski again. He had actually given it up, but then an opportunity arose.
- “I came across a video from the Sochi Paralympic Games in Russia, where completely blind skiers stand at 130 kilometers per hour. I thought it was insane, but also really cool. So I could do that too. ”
He therefore took matters into his own hands and ended up getting in touch with the national coach of the Paralympic national team. The first time he put on his skis after the accident, however, was a bit borderline.
- “The first trip was quite uncomfortable. I rode around with a ski instructor with two wooden poles between us under each arm and then we rode the plow. We started all over again. However, I got used to it relatively quickly to drive fast again. ”
Kristian runs both giant slalom and slalom, where he has to run around gates. He has a guide in front of him in a yellow vest who tells him via a radio when to turn into the next turn and straighten up. It is a technical discipline and therefore the cooperation between him and the guide is paramount.
- “I'm not afraid to fall, because sometimes you have to crash. Otherwise you have not pushed yourself enough, and then you just have to get up again. That's also why it's so cool to ski. When we run competition, there is sport in it. Then I forget that I can not see. ”
The ambition is to continue running competition, and then there is an Olympics in Beijing in 2022, shining on the horizon. The realistic goal is to participate - but the dream is a podium.
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