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Fast confession - Heřman Volf: He only set out on the path to achieve his dreams when he was in a wheelchair

Tereza Janatová
12.Dec 2018
+ Add on Seznam.cz
6 minutes to read

If everyone in this world had the same positive attitude to life like Heřman Volf we would probably enjoy our lives more. Many of us could learn from handicapped people, at least with regard to their attitude to misery in life. Heřman was previously unstoppable, he managed a great number of business meetings, sports and other activities. Then he seriously injured himself when skiing and ended up on a wheelchair. And while many people would have been destroyed by this turn of fate, he found a new meaning in life as a result. He organises sports events and links the seemingly un-linkable worlds of handicapped and healthy people.

Heřman Volf
Heřman Volf
"Handicapovaní musí vědět, že kvalitní život mohoou mít i oni."

I’d like to discuss the period before your injury first of all. What was your life like then?

Fast and furious. I was always very active and this backfired viciously when I was forty-one. Before the accident I built one house and I renovated another, I also had and have two children and a company. I also had a job in addition to this so I was able to maintain these houses.

I was an active sportsman until I was around thirty years old and sport has been an important element my entire life. I was basically always busy, I never had much time for myself so I was always prepared. When a meeting was cancelled I took my running shoes out of the car and went for a run in the woods.

So you used your time well. You were capable of using or enjoying every minute?

Not very much according to my wife. (laughs)

Luxusní byt Vinohrady - 230m
Luxusní byt Vinohrady - 230m, Praha 2

So it’s true that we women sometimes have a different opinion of things…

Certainly. The truth is that when I look back I would certainly have done things differently.

On that fateful day you were skiing and you had a serious fall. Do you remember your feelings or thoughts at the time? What went through your head?

When it happened I remained conscious. I fell so unfortunately that I had a hole in my lung, broken ribs and other injuries. At that moment you don’t feel good at all. You are very aware that you are fighting for your life and you are not exactly concerned with what it looks like, you just hope you can get over it. The only thing I was sufficiently aware of was that I would be unable to get out of the hole I had skied into by myself.

But even before the accident, my wife came to me and she told me that I was living my life too quickly. She made me attend a course on self-healing and meditation. I actually took the course, albeit with protest, just like any man. But when the accident occurred I was incredibly grateful to have attended the course, because I only managed the first weeks thanks to mediation. It may seem strange to say this now, but I was essentially prepared for the accident. I probably did live so fast that it was necessary for me to become aware of it and slow down for a while.

Who helped you during the accident? Who was the first to reach you?

Before it happened I had skied down several hills and listened to people saying I was an excellent skier. And because I am vain, like any man, it made me feel good. But there are some things you simply can’t control. I was skiing down a hill and there was a hole nearly at the bottom by the ski lift, which shouldn’t have been there. And I was also skiing very fast, again.....

The first to reach me were the ski lift operators and then the medical rescue service arrived very quickly. I was immediately taken to the hospital in Vrchlabí, where they tried to put me back together again. When it happened I primarily tried to rise above the pain and tried to survive.

And is it true that a person can cope with much more than he would have thought?

The fact is that before the accident my most serious illness had been a cough and a cold. So you fight as hard as you can. In truth I am very lucky to be here at all. I am very grateful that things are as they are.

How did your family cope with it? It wasn’t just your life that changed, but also the lives of the people around you.

I always did everything I could so it would have the smallest possible impact, especially on the children. But in general, regarding the others, I tried to function so that I wasn’t dependent on them. On the contrary, I started working so that I could continue securing my family financially. And particularly ensure that I was self-sufficient. Yes, of course I sometimes need someone to give me a push on the wheelchair, but otherwise I try to make sure that the people around me are affected as little as possible.

Is this why your wife decided to leave you?

I think so. She says its not true, but in my opinion it was one of the reasons she left. At the moment we live together in one house, but we don’t live together.

Was there anyone around you who turned his back on you?

There wasn’t. I know it sounds unusual, but I lead a completely normal life, it’s not a battle. And I accept what life offers me now. You know what? You cannot come to terms with it, you have to learn to live with it.

You started working on the “Journey to your dreams” project. Was this before the accident or after?

When I had the accident I had no idea what would happen. And one day I saw wheelchair users skiing on television. So I said to myself that, within a year and a day, I would be able to ski down that hill. And that is what happened! I somehow managed to ski down the hill and then I basically realised that if you want to, you can do anything.

Then I purchased a bike, which was extremely expensive. It cost 175 thousand and it wasn't new. At that time it was more expensive than my car. I had the bike stored at my parent’s house outside Prague and I sometimes rode it. But it spent most of the lying there and I thought that was a shame. Until one day I heard on the radio that a cycle route to Paris had been opened. I immediately knew I had to cycle it. I simply had to cycle all the way to the Arc de Triomphe and turn my ill fortune around. And so one day I spoke to my friend and told him that I would like to film the journey. He is a documentary make and producer and he said: “Yeah, that sounds good, I’ll do it.” And that is how “Journey to your dreams” originated. That was the first impulse.

But that’s not the only project you were involved in....

Certainly not. We always travelled for some greater purpose. We collected money for some people, we made children’s dreams come true, or we took a message from Czech wheelchair users to the pope in the Vatican and asked for his blessing. When my journeys around Europe ended, many of my friends came to me saying that they wanted to come with me. So I said it’s no problem, all you have to do is take three weeks holiday and we can set out. But that didn't work, they couldn’t take so much holiday leave.

Historická vila na prodej, Praha 5 - 471m
Historická vila na prodej, Praha 5 - 471m, Praha 5

And then my friend Michal Jon, who cycled around the world, came to me with an idea. He wanted me to go with him to America for the “Run” race as a member of the team. This is a race in travelling from the west coast to the east coast. I immediately liked this idea so I asked what would be needed to go with him. He told me two things. To make the decision to go and a starting fee of 400 thousand Crowns. That was the fee for one person. “Well ok,” I thought. It would be great to do something like that in the Czech Republic too, and with the active involvement of disabled people and for disabled people. More and more projects gradually become a part of this.

What for example? What can we expect in the future?

I invented a cycle simulator, which more and more simulators will be based on. Thank God it had a lot of success, so I am very pleased with it. This year we have managed to sell about thirty of them and its not the end of the year yet. We mainly placed them free of charge in institutions. We have a sort of event during which people support other handicapped people by cycling. So it is actually an event where people help other people by being active.

Next year we will introduce a new multi-functional simulator onto the market, which will have cross-country skiing, paddling and rowing functions. Once again we want to place it in institutions and make people aware of it. And another thing we want to establish is a hire facility, which will be free for disabled people, and also a simulator for driving a car using just your hands.

What would you tell people who are possibly in a similar situation to you and have not yet managed to mentally come to terms with it?

It’s very difficult, we are all different. I hope its not too much for me to recommend the website cestazasnem.cz. There are various interviews there and we talk about all sorts of things. It may help people.

I think it’s very important to have a motto, something to follow. It could be a sort of aid, the following sentence is excellent for example: “Don’t let the sh*t get you down...” We all know this one and I think that it is sometimes appropriate. And the second motto would be: “God give me strength to come to terms with something I cannot change.” I think that says it all really.

Have you ever met someone who looked down their nose at you?

I don’t think I have. People accept you due to the way you behave and act. So I really think I don’t have any problem with this.

Fast confession:

How much time a day do you have for yourself?

No much, about an hour and a half.

Who is your greatest idol?

My greatest idol was and still is Ruda Brojír, a wheelchair user.

What do you pay most attention to in life?

I pay attention to what I say.

Your favourite physical activity?

All types of sports.

What is your antidote to a bad mood?

Sport.

Is there any place in the world you would like to visit?

New Zealand.

What or who is capable of making you furious?

Encountering an idiot.

The most useless thing you have every purchased?

I don’t usually buy complete rubbish. I can’t think of anything.

What is your greatest luxury?

I think that the greatest luxury is having a lot of friends and a pleasant mood between people.

Who do you speak with most over the telephone?

With my girlfriend.

Do you cook at home?

Yes, I do.

What do you consider your greatest success?

Our “Journey to your dreams” organisation, which we established and is now doing very well, is definitely our greatest success.

What is one of your bad habits?

I don’t think I have one.

What do you appreciate most in people?

Truth and honesty.
The interviewee asks the interviewer:

Do you have time this evening?

Not today. :-)
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