The USC community isn’t so concerned with having a six pack or winning medals – we’re more interested in living an active, balanced lifestyle and trying new things. And there’s no one who embodies this attitude more than the amazing and inspiring Christina Wechsel.
Christina is many things. She’s rock-climber, a diver, a swimmer, a naturopath, a business owner and a keynote speaker. But after chatting with her for an hour, what she is most of all is inspiring. And her incredible story begins in her best friends bathroom…
All in a year
Christina and I chat over Skype, her positivity radiating through the computer screen. She speaks in a clear voice and her blue eyes shine as she shares her unbelievable story. “Everything started at the age of 19. I was at a party at a friends house and found this beautiful Japanese saying on the bathroom mirror. ‘Send your child who you love travelling. Because those are the best experiences you’ll have in life.’ And from that moment I dreamt of travelling the world.”
Christina moved to Zurich to earn enough money to fulfil her dream. “I had the time of my life. I partied like there was no tomorrow and met such beautiful people.” However amidst this she got a phone call from her father – her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. “My mum was my absolute soul mate. She was the mentor of my life and my best friend. We were extremely close.” Christina says. Six months later Christina’s mother called to say she had the all-clear. “She told me ‘Now you can plan your world trip.’ So I booked my round-the-world ticket and quit my job.” But a few weeks before flying to Vietnam Christina’s dad called again. The cancer was back. “She died a few weeks later,” Christina says. “I couldn’t cope. For the whole family it was a nightmare.”
To help with her grief and to feel closer to her mother, Christina re-read her mum’s favourite book – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. “That book reminded me that nothing would make my mother happier than fulfilling my dream. So I booked a flight to Sydney and six months after her passing I flew to Australia.”
The year was 2007. Christina was travelling with two of her best friends through Australia and New Zealand when they teamed up with a young backpacker who was going the same route. One day the four of them hired a car to drive to Uluru with the young backpacker at the wheel. “On our way, in the middle of nowhere, she lost control of the vehicle,” Christina says. “We still don’t know why or what happened – I can’t remember – but we rolled over five or six times. It was a very bad accident. Ronnie, my best friend who was sitting in front of me, died right away.”
Because their location was so remote it took 12 hours to get the three survivors to hospital. “I survived with life-threatening injuries,” Christina explains. “I had a collapsed lung, intestinal injuries, bone fractures.” Christina and the doctors fought to save her left leg but she contracted sepsis which resulted in multi-organ failure. They were left with no choice but to amputate below the left knee.
Christina says that the worst part was the phantom pain. “I can’t even think about how it felt. I was in Intensive Care for about seven weeks and then the insurance decided to transport me to a trauma centre in Germany. That’s when the rehabilitation started.”
Within a year and at the age of 25 Christina had lost her mother, her best friend and her leg. She had so many questions. “Why me? Why did this happen after my mother died? Why when fulfilling my dream of travelling?” And one big question she had was whether she could ever play her beloved sports again. As a child Christina loved sports and was captain of the tennis team, playing in tournaments across Germany. She grew up in Munich so spent much of her childhood hiking and skiing in the Alps.
One day as she lay in her bed in the trauma center, looking out at the beautiful mountains, Christina came to an eye-opening realisation. “I realised I always have a choice. I can’t control what happens in life but I can decide how to deal with a situation. That’s when my mindset started to shift.”
As Christina’s scars healed she realised she couldn’t change what happened. “I’d lost my leg and I couldn’t change that. But I could change my attitude towards it. If I could let go and accept it then I’ll automatically give myself the chance for new things to develop. And by that time I did get something new – I got my new leg.”
As soon as Christina stepped into her prosthetic leg she felt unstoppable. “I wanted to find out exactly what’s possible with this prosthetic leg. I told my doctor I need to go hiking and skiing and I want to play tennis and it needs to be waterproof because I started wake-boarding in Australia.” The doctors told her to slow down – and to start with swimming as it’s easy on the joints. Just six months after the accident Christina started to swim and it wasn’t long before it developed into a passion.
Something else happened around this time. Christina was at Oktoberfest when she met her current husband. “He’s the greatest rock-climber I’ve ever met,” she says. “He’s addicted to adrenaline. He also goes paragliding and hang-gliding but his passion is rock-climbing.” One day Christina went along with her husband to watch while he climbed in the mountains. To reach his climbing route they had to navigate a steep, rocky path. “I said “How do you think I’m going to do this? It’s not possible! Look at me! Look at my leg! How will I get back down?”
And he said ‘Well… I don’t know. Why don’t you use your crutches?’ And I did. I tried with my crutches. And it worked. So I started rock-climbing six months after my accident.”
Rock-climbing was amazing for her self-esteem and two years after her accident Christina swam across Lake Zurich. “It was only 1.5km – but it’s not about having a six-pack or going super fast. It’s about the experience. It’s about doing it. And that feeling when I got to the other side of the lake with only one leg – I was so proud I cried. And I knew my mum was also very proud of me. Wherever she is. She’s still always with me. She continues to live in my heart.”
Since then Christina has also discovered that she’s able to ski with one leg. “I found out it’s not a bad thing to fall down. The only important thing is to stand up and fight for your dreams and for what you believe.” She also goes scuba diving regularly. “There’s a solution to every problem. I love diving. I did my first open water course in Thailand. I’ve been scuba-diving in Mexico, in Belize, in South Africa, Thailand, Egypt.”
Focussing on the future
While in hospital the doctors gave Christina a cocktail of drugs to manage her phantom pain. “I tried everything,” she says. “But nothing really helped.” Christina’s mother was a naturopath so Christina knew about alternative healing methods. “I tried energy medicine and it helped. It’s so interesting – how can you heal something that doesn’t exist anymore? The pain was in my head.” Following this revelation Christina went on to study Naturopathy and has since opened her own Natural Medicine Clinic in Munich. “Now I don’t need any pain killers. I still have small attacks but it’s manageable. I don’t have pain the whole night anymore.”
Since the accident Christina has fulfilled many of her lifelong dreams, travelling to 19 countries and working for causes she truly believes in. “It’s so important to have dreams in your life and to focus on that. Because life is so short – in just one second it can change. But nobody can ever amputate my mindset or what it feels like to fulfil my dreams. And nobody can ever take away my spirit.”
Christina is a keynote speaker, a naturopath, a climber, a diver, a skier and a big inspiration. To stay up to date with her amazing journey follow her on Instagram.