“Everyone should watch the Paralympic Games exactly because they are a bit different. I’ve been watching Boccia online lately as we are doing the marathon. It’s competitive, exciting and a damn good fun.”
From 18-29 May Mile Stojkoski travelled to Geneva, Lausanne, Fribourg, Bern, Luzern, Zurich, Winterthur and Schaffhausen in Switzerland, pushing 310km on his journey in a wheelchair to London (Map of the 12 day journey in Switzerland http://goo.gl/maps/8IXe).
Geneva to Lausanne (18-19 May) – A Macedonian welcome
We entered rainy Geneva from Annecy driving in our car and we were welcomed by Mr. Vladimir Ralev, Honorary Consul of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in Geneva and Ms. Veska Sotirovska Head of the Macedonian Mission in the United Nations HQ. Our hosts, like many others later on, shared a great deal of compliments about how Switzerland has solved many issues (medical, psychosocial and occupational) for improving the lives of people with disabilities and is probably one of the best in the world on that front.
We had very little time to enjoy cosmopolitan Geneva as the next sunny morning on 20 May we were immediately headed towards Lausanne. Mile had a 70km marathon to push on Rue du Lac, alongside the beautiful Geneva Lake.
With good stamina and healthy 2000-4000 calories diet Mile pushed each kilometre with confidence and kept a tempo above 7kmph (including rest points) despite uneven terrain and the difficulties controlling an everyday wheelchair on regular public roads.
In 10 hours exactly at 6:10 pm we reached Lausanne at Ouchy castle and harbour where two Macedonian clubs were waiting to welcome us. A local television crew did a lengthy interview and helped Mile spread his message to everyone struggling with their disability that strength is within and they should never give up on life.
Yverdon through Fribourg to Bern (20-21 May) – Surprising the cows
The next day Mile had a beautiful view pushing his wheelchair alongside lakes, farms, green pastures but it was also a tricky journey combining uphill and downhill terrain. Our goal was Fribourg, a city 42km away.
Cows always had some odd reactions seeing Mile in his wheelchair passing close to them. Although there are many people, cars and bicycles passing through constantly, the man in the wheelchair was a shocking sight to the cows. Most had playful and shouty reactions.
This was funny to us, but also it confirmed for us that not many people in wheelchairs are seen passing or exercising on public roads or on bicycle lanes in rural Switzerland. Fortunately humans that were passing by waved a hand in sign of support for Mile’s effort or said “Go, go, go!”.
On 21 May we completed our journey to Bern.
Bern – meeting the Swiss Paralympic Committee (23 May)
In Bern our visit at the Macedonian Embassy was pleasant and we had a chance to discuss how they helped us so far with logistics and plan to do more as we continue. The Consul and our contact person explained he did his best to arrange meetings with non-governmental organizations for people with disabilities but had little success.
Also he attempted the same with arranging a meeting between Rainer Kueschall, the founder of a well-known wheelchair producing company – Kueschall AG and Mile Stojkoski, who uses their wheelchair for all of his marathons since 2007. Again, no luck. We immediately said our biggest ambition through Switzerland is to visit the renowned Centre for Rehabilitation in Nottwill, near Luzern. Good news is we successfully arranged a formal reception on 29 May with an accompanying TV crew.
At 10 am we were at the doors of House of Sports in Ittigen, Bern, where our host was the Swiss Paralympic Committee (SPC) represented by Veronika Roos. Mile had a chance to explain and present his current ultramarathon and background as well as his vision to initiate building of centres for rehabilitation of people with disabilities in the Balkan region as a fertile ground for future Paralympic athletes.
We were a bit surprised to hear that there is not much interest in the Swiss media about Paralympic sports and this was one of the reasons no media representatives came to our meeting with the SPC.
This is one of the main reasons why Mile is doing his ultramarathons on public roads among ordinary people in everyday life. It will show everyone that people with disabilities have huge athletic potential and are both humane and courageous. Mile’s marathons have a more attractive shock effect for news editors and Mile uses this advantage to promote sport as a rehabilitation method and Paralympic sports as equal to Olympic ones with every possible chance he gets.
“Everyone should watch the Paralympic Games exactly because they are a bit different. I’ve been watching Boccia online lately as we are doing the marathon. It’s competitive, exciting and a damn good fun,” said Mile.
Triengen to Zurich and Winterthur (May 26-27) – Creating a media storm
On 26 May we continued towards Zurich with 50km for Mile to push with his willing arms and reliable Kueschall wheelchair. The day was sunny and burning hot, which was a tricky business for Mile, but also for me following him to take photos and videos. More than half the route was steep and snaky uphill terrain that exhausted Mile completely after doing our designated 50km.
A news reporter from Tele M1 came unannounced and excited as Mile was pushing on and wanted to do an interview and some action shots here on the road. And we did.
What made us curious was her personal opinion brought up in casual conversation that there are probably very few people with disabilities in Switzerland. She never encounters any in everyday life. Now that is something to contemplate. Of course there are people with disabilities in Switzerland. But where are they? Why aren’t they living an active life outdoors if their basic needs are satisfied?
The next day as we went towards Winterthur for Mile to go another 30km in his wheelchair, we were called by a news reporter from a Zurich television. He also came and did an interview and action shots. We mentioned a few of our concerns about media not having much interest in Paralympic sports and activities of people with disabilities. He simply said “That’s why you are here doing this, to change that, right?”.