“I want to be successful for Haiti and for my coach. He has made a lot of efforts for me.”
Eugene Fritzner’s bright, wide smile broadens when he talks about handcycling.
The 35-year-old returned home to Haiti in late August after two months in Switzerland. His stay culminated with the 2015 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships, which were held in Nottwil and wrapped up on 2 August.
“I love this sport,” Fritzner said before lining up for his first major international competition. “I am in Europe for Haiti and I want to win. It will be difficult but you have to believe in yourself and move upwards and onwards.”
He was a long way off medal contention at the World Championships in the men’s H3 road race, which was won by Italy’s Vittorio Podesta. But representing his country at the world level meant a lot for Fritzner.
In a wheelchair since a shooting incident in 2010, Fritzner discovered handcycling while in rehabilitation at the Hospital De La Convention Baptiste d'Haiti. The hospital was built after the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the country, and the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation in Nottwil has been closely involved with its development and activities.
Albert Marti – a handcyclist, researcher at Swiss Paraplegic Research and specialist in participation and social integration – travels to Haiti every year to motivate, encourage and coach the country’s handcyclists. He was integral in getting Fritzner into the sport.
“When we found out that the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships were coming to Nottwil, we realised we had to do something to get at least one of our Haitian athletes over here to participate,” Marti said.
Despite a long and complicated process, Fritzner got sufficient funding and a visa to travel to Switzerland with his coach Senatus Severe.
During Marti’s last visit to Haiti in January, he left his own handcycle behind for Fritzner to train with.
“There is always a problem of equipment and tools,” Marti said. “Eugene’s handbike wasn’t in good condition so I left him mine. He brought it with him when he came to Switzerland and used it for the World Championships.”
Fritzner is not the first Haitian para-cyclist to compete internationally. One of his fellow rehabilitation patients in 2010, Leo Gaisli, competed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, which was two years after losing his wife and eight children in the Haiti earthquake that left him with spinal cord injury.
Fritzner who, like Gaisli, grabbed the opportunity to travel to Europe and made the most of it.
“Basically we have just one flat, straight, road going from Cap Haiti to the Dominion Republic and it is dangerous,” Fritzner said. “When I am training, I need to be accompanied by a motorbike.”
The handcycle is not only his sport, but his means of transport to and from work. He trains every day after work, following a programme sent from Marti.
Eager to give back to the rehabilitation centre that introduced him to the sport, the now international athlete is a mentor at the hospital’s sports centre, where he plans to share his experience in Europe and at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships.
“I want to be successful for Haiti and for my coach. He has made a lot of efforts for me. I love this sport and I do it every day,” Fritzner said.