Kristina Vogel is the most successful track cyclist of all time. Since a serious training accident, she has been paralyzed and has to rely on a wheelchair. In the interview, she reveals how she maintains her positive attitude, what hope she has for the future and what the Wings for Life World Run means to her.

FOCUS online: First of all, how are you? You recently had to have emergency surgery.

Kristina Vogel: I’m feeling well again. I had a thrombectomy on April 13th, during which the blood clots in my lungs had to be suctioned out. This surgical method is relatively new in Germany, but it worked really well for me. I felt much better straight afterward, but I still need to recover for a few days.

They’ve already sent a smiling selfie from the hospital bed and haven’t lost their sense of humor either. “It’s a bit like a family reunion here,” they commented. A reference to your accident in 2018. Can you take us back to that?

Vogel: In short: At that time there was someone on the velodrome who shouldn’t have been there. I couldn’t see him and crashed into him head-on at over 60 km/h. When I woke up lying on the velodrome, I immediately knew that things were serious.

My friends and accident helpers freed me from my helmet and my very tight and custom-made cycling shoes. When I saw my shoes being carried away from me, but I didn’t even notice that someone was on my feet, I knew immediately: Running is no longer going to work! Let’s call it a blessing and a curse for people in competitive sports: you know your body very well.

And now, during the new operation, I saw many of the people who looked after me back then. I had really great nurses, carers and doctors. I was really happy to see everyone again and hear what has happened to them over the last six years. Although this would of course have been nicer in a nice café than during a hospital stay…

As a two-time Olympic champion and seventeen-time world champion, you are the most successful female track cyclist of all time. How hard is it, perhaps especially as a professional athlete, when you suddenly find yourself in a wheelchair?

Vogel: It depends on what the question is aimed at. When life changes so radically, especially in the blink of an eye, it causes fear here and there. Everything you know no longer exists and you have to reorient yourself. But I am a very pragmatic person and always try to make the best of the circumstances.

If you basically ask through the flower whether it isn’t very hard in a wheelchair, then I have to answer differently. Of course, life without a disability is easier, but life with a disability is no less worth living. The circumstances and the structural discrimination are what make it so difficult! Otherwise, I’m just a woman who can’t walk.

They always seem positive and optimistic. Was there a time after the accident when things were different? Have you ever struggled with fate?

Vogel: I think that in all things there are always two decisions:

1. I feel sorry for myself and sit at home.

2. I try to make the best of the circumstances and shape the world according to my ideas.

Of course that sounds pretty easy, but sometimes it isn’t at all. I just prefer to be realistic in my assessment of the facts and try to be optimistic and shape everything the way it suits me.

Who or what helped you after the accident?

Vogel: I think it’s important to say that everything you achieve in life is actually a team effort. So it was primarily my partner Michael – he’s known as “Bibbii” -, my family and closest friends and the federal police who supported me, as well as the team at the hospital in Berlin. I was basically just able to concentrate on getting better.

What would you advise other affected people to avoid losing heart?

Vogel: It’s okay to grieve. This shows that we have lost things that are important to us. But in the end it is up to us personally how we shape our lives. Nobody does that for us. So I prefer to just have fun!

You are a fighter. You also say: “You have to achieve something so that happiness can come.” An attitude that you say you adopted from your parents. Can you explain that in more detail?

Vogel: Basically, I learned from my mother that you simply don’t get anything for free in life. You can’t sit on the couch and expect great happiness to come. This only happens if you have tried to create the conditions beforehand. In sports they also say “Ass to the grass” or “There is no elevator in life.” You have to take the stairs!”

Your book should be a conclusion, a new beginning – from the “walking life” to the “rolling life”, as you once described. Does it feel like two lifetimes to you?

Vogel: Somehow yes and someway no. I’m still me. Only the way I move around has changed. On the other hand, the accident in 2018 made me grow up a lot. So I would say that the transition is somewhat fluid.

In fact, this wasn’t her first bad bike accident. There was already one where they were in a coma and it was also uncertain whether they would even survive…

Vogel: In 2009 a minibus took my right of way, I couldn’t avoid it and flew through the last side window. At that time I broke many bones in my body. Including the fifth thoracic vertebra. If I hadn’t had such good muscles that protected my spine like an airbag and very good first aiders who didn’t turn me into the recovery position, I would have been paralyzed back then.

For many people, first aid training was a long time ago. If I had not been rotated correctly, my spine would have shifted and injured the spinal cord. I therefore always advise repeating the first aid training regularly and if the person involved in the accident is approachable and has severe back pain, perhaps allow them to remain in that position or at least just take off the helmet.

Back then, in your hospital bed, you immediately asked for a new bike.

Vogel: Back then, I didn’t want my dreams and goals to be decided just because someone took my right of way. I wanted to go to the Olympic Games, I also wanted to celebrate world championship titles among adults. The accident happened in May 2009 and almost eight months later I took part in the World Championships in Copenhagen. The result I achieved there in the sprint discipline was the best result by a German track cyclist in over 20 years.

You are still involved in cycling today – as a trainer. Does it remain your great passion or do you find new passions?

Vogel: The fire for cycling is of course still very much burning. That’s why I’m happy to be active as a federal police cycling trainer. Matthias John and I are a good team and try to give the athletes as much as they can along the way.

The “Wings for Life World Run” will take place on May 5th. Why is this race so important?

Vogel: I don’t even know where to start: First and foremost, it’s one of the largest fundraising runs in the world. 100 percent of the proceeds go to research. Even if I live my life as best as I can, the dream of ever being able to walk again is not yet gone. The “Wings for Life” Foundation supports research projects worldwide that have this as their mission. Recently, some supported projects have also been visible in the media – with great success.

Then of course also to create visibility for people with disabilities. We all live in one world together, but we know very little about each other. There are many reasons for this, but one thing is clear: inclusion and diversity cannot work like this.

The Wings for Life World Run takes place around the globe once a year. All participants start at the same time worldwide and either run individually with the Wings for Life World Run app or together in numerous flagship runs or app run events. The best part is that any form of running is just about taking part and having fun running.

It doesn’t matter how well, fast or far you run. There is no traditional finish line. Instead, 30 minutes after the start, either a virtual or – in the case of the flagship runs – a real catcher car takes up the chase and overtakes the participants, for whom the run is successfully completed.

The results are not measured by time, but by distance achieved. 100 percent of the entry fees and donations go directly to spinal cord research.

In previous editions (until 2023) of the Wings for Life World Run, a total of 1,293,716 registered participants from 194 countries on all seven continents ran, walked or rolled and collected a total of 43.8 million euros for the cure of paraplegia.

Do you still want to take part in the run? You can take part from anywhere using the app. You can find more information here.

The flagship runs in many larger cities are already sold out. But don’t worry, you can take part from anywhere using the app.

The participation fee is then 25 euros, 100 percent of which goes towards research projects.

More information can be found here.

Are you happy today or what makes you happy?

Bird: A lot! I also think that when it comes to a question like this, we don’t always have to just think about the big issues. Even the small and everyday things are important to us as humans. No matter whether it’s a bird sitting on the windowsill or the delicious spaghetti ice cream. Furthermore, I just have fun with what I do. And justice makes me very happy.

Last question: Where do you see yourself or your family in ten years?

Vogel: I stopped making plans for so long. I just hope that I can do things that make me happy and that make a difference in society.