In November 2021, Polish luger Mateusz Sochowicz had just started a test run on the Olympic track at Yanqing National Sliding Center in Beijing when he struck a metal barrier that should have been open.
He fractured his left kneecap and sustained a cut so deep that 20 centimeters of bone was exposed on his right leg.
Sochowicz had seen the closed gate on the track and tried to stand up and jump over the barrier.
“However, everything was happening too fast and I didn’t have time to bounce,” he told Reuters. “That’s why my legs are broken, not the rest of my body. If I hadn’t reacted, it could have resulted in a tragedy.”
The move, which veteran luge athletes marveled over, lessened the impact of his injuries and may have saved his life, Reuters reported.
He was later sent to Peking University Hospital, where he received surgery, before flying back home a week later to continue his rehab.
The International Olympics Committee launched an investigation into the incident with the International Luge Federation citing the cause as “human error”.
Known in Poland by the nickname Mewa – Seagull – Sochowicz set an ambitious goal of making it back to Beijing for the Winter Games three months later.
“I have proved to myself that nothing is impossible,” Sochowicz told AP.
The road to recovery was difficult. “I had to start to learn how to walk again,” Sochowicz said. “Sounds like impossible thing.”
He also didn’t know if he could rebuild mentally, he said, telling Reuters he wasn’t sure if he would be able to go on the same track again as he would be afraid that something might be waiting for him around the corner.
Working with the psychologist helped him to release his resentment over the accident, Sochowicz said.
“At the very beginning, I had a big grudge against the people who hurt me, but I decided that nobody did it on purpose,” he said. “Mistakes happen. I’m tough. I dealt with it.”
On Saturday, Feb. 5, Sochowicz returned to that same track to compete in the men’s singles luge event at the Winter Olympics.
Although he placed 27th, his fellow athletes commended his courage.
“Look at the story,” Great Britain luger Rupert Staudinger said. “It’s crazy.”
“I promise you, luge is not a way to get rich,” US Luger Chris Mazdzer said. “You do this because you love it, and it really speaks worlds that Sochowicz’s doing this. His passion and fire are incredible.”
“Everyone has a huge level of respect for him,” Tucker West of Team USA said. “To come back on a track that quite nearly put him out for the rest of his life is very impressive.” Tucker West of Team USA said.
Sochowicz also paid a visit to the hospital to thank the staff.