Roland Blanke is a speaker, trainer, expert consultant, competitive athlete and much more. The former martial artist doesn’t let his wheelchair get him down. No matter what the likeable Offenburg native is doing at the moment – his enthusiasm is intoxicating and has lifted many a person out of a mental slump. His trademark is the handbike. And he really knows his way around it.
Roland, you have already met many people on your handbike tours through the Ortenau / Germany region and your sporting achievements as a handcyclist are well known. You and the handbike seem inseparable. How did this passion come about?
I used to be in the biker scene. Speed fascinates me. The wheelchair was too slow for me! One day I bought my first handbike and modified it. Different gearing, thicker tires. I am a trained machinist. Also my cars are always rebuilt, and earlier the motorcycles. I don’t like anything off the shelf! Then at a big rehab fair I discovered mountain bikes. That’s my world! I wanted to ride high again. Finally I could! I am often alone on the road, and fast. I sometimes ride 70, 80 km, my fastest speed was over 100! I have also fallen with the mountain bike and lay under it. Once hikers helped me. Another time I was alone. That lasted then over one hour, until I could go on again. I always have repair stuff with me. And a blanket, in case I have to spend the night. But that hasn’t happened yet.
You also bring your expertise to bear as a specialist consultant at the Erk & Müller medical supply store in the Ortenau district. How can interested customers find out whether handbiking is right for them?
Quite simply: I take them on a tour! Other Houses do not offer this. We had an individually adjustable racing bike built especially for this purpose. The customers should have a nice day. They don’t have to buy anything. But everyone who has been on the road with me has bought a bike later! Our prices are relatively cheap because we don’t have a salesroom. I do the repairs in my workshop. I also plan tours with rental bikes for people who can’t afford a bike at the moment. That they can also experience it. The customers get back so much quality of life that they thought they had lost. I have already had men sitting next to me crying.
And how do you recognize a good handbike?
Whether handbike or wheelchair – I don’t recommend anything I haven’t tested myself! But the device is not the only thing. A handbike needs to be customized, just like a wheelchair, so it becomes a very personal specimen. Some bikes are universally customizable, so they can be adjusted again and again for new users. So even a used device can be perfectly adapted. But this comes at the expense of weight and stability. Even custom-made handbikes can be modified to a certain extent later on. Even a normal handbike costs 7- to 10000 Euro new, an individually built racing bike for competitive sports 10000 € upwards, the new carbon bikes 17- to 18000 €! I sell my bikes cheaply to people who do not have so much money. The problem is always the money. We also advise on dealing with the authorities and show customers all the support options they are entitled to. This is also a question of human dignity.
As an instructor at the Badischer Behinderten- und Rehabilitationssportverband e.V. BBS, you also visit schools. What exactly do you do there?
The project “Behindertensport macht Schule” (Sports for the Disabled in Schools), which is supported by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, aims to show children the possibilities of sports for the disabled and to break down fears of contact. I show the children how to use a wheelchair and then we play wheelchair basketball! Most of the time, the children can relate to the situation surprisingly well. This initiative has an effect: the students realize that wheelchair users are just normal people. When the kids see me again later, they greet me happily and introduce me to their parents as the cool Roland! In addition, we from the BBS also go to the sports clubs: As part of our inclusion campaign, we show in a very practical way how sports with disabilities work. This is very well received!
You also visit newly injured people in the hospital who are suddenly confronted with a disability. That’s certainly not an easy task.
But an important one. I can get many of them out of the hole that everyone falls into at first. But not everyone. I try to convey what moves me forward myself. It helps me to think about how beautiful life is. Then I become happy. Just don’t mourn what you can’t do anymore! I ask myself: What can I still do? And then I do it right! I don’t have enough time for everything I want to do, the day is much too short for me! I also work with mentally handicapped people, as part of a cooperation between Lebenshilfe and the handicapped sports group BSG Offenburg, where I am an honorary specialist trainer for rehabilitation sports. At first I doubted whether I could do it. I am one of the trainers for the Special Olympics cycling team. Mentally disabled people are very honest. They show dislike directly and affection too, want to squeeze you. I had to learn to deal with that first. But now it’s a lot of fun!
Questions for Roland here
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