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From wheelchair to athletics track

Janko Eelsingh: “I strongly believe that if you really want to achieve something, you can do it”

Janko Eelsingh was born in Akkrum on the April 25th, 2002. He is in his fifth year of the Higher General Secondary Education (HAVO) at the OSG Sevenwolden in Heerenveen. When Janko was born he had his legs amputated because he was born with three toes and missing some legbones, so he would never be able to walk. He had to deal with his handicap during his entire life. Nevertheless, in 2016 he started running in blades and his biggest dream is to participate in the Paralympic Games.

Childhood and school times

Sixteen years ago, when Janko was born, Wim Eelsingh and José Eelsingh, Janko’s parents, had to decide what they wanted: putting him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life or amputate his legs so he could walk on prothesis. “Amputating was the best option for us, so he at least had the chance of walking” – say his parents.

Janko remembers his childhood and school times just like any other kid. There were some minor differences between him and the other kids, but that never bothered him. He feels he was more mature than other kids of his age because “he had gone through a lot and that only made him stronger” (says his sister Reino). Luckily, he had some friends who didn’t judge him and accepted him like who he was. Therefore, his childhood was great, and he feels thankful for all the support he got from his family and friends: “my parents always wanted to make sure that I had the most advanced prostheses and the most qualified professionals around me. I’m very grateful of that”.

Reino Eelsingh, Janko’s older sister, sometimes forgets he doesn’t have legs because he manages everything so well: “for me it’s nothing different than having a brother without a disability. I’m very glad to have a brother like him”.  When he was little, she saw that he was a bit insecure and sometimes felt out of place. However, that doesn’t bother him anymore and he just embraces the things he can do.

Janko Eelsingh preparing himself to run – (c) Reino Eelsingh

Walking with prothesis

For his family when Janko started walking with prothesis it was like every first step a child makes. Janko felt the same when he started walking: “children learn very quickly and just like every other kid I had to learn how to walk. The only small difference was that I had to learn it on prostheses instead of real legs”.

Reino, Janko’s older sister, can’t remember when Janko started walking with prostheses but she finds it fascinating how someone can walk on those prostheses. “He does not feel the ground, he can’t move his ankles and he can’t really jump. But it’s all he knows, and he can handle it very well. I’m so proud of him.” – she says.

However, he doesn’t always walk on his prostheses. Sometimes he just leaves them off for a day and gets in his wheelchair because they hurt, and he needs to rest.

Teenage life

Janko is living his life like a normal teenager. He has compared himself with other people, but he never thought he was less than the others: “I always noticed the differences, but I have always looked at my disability in a positive way. That’s how I want people to see me”. Besides, there are some negative things that he can’t do because of his condition. He recognises that it’s sometimes hard for him to know that he can’t participate in everything and do stuff that people with normal legs can do. “There are a few things I can’t do, but there are also a lot of things I can do, and I always like to focus on those positive things” – he says.

Janko’s family, his parents and his older sister Reino, not only help him when he needs it, but also stimulate him as much as possible to become independent in the “adult world”. His parents recognise that it affects the family life, but not in a negative period hey just need to think more about planning trips or other things they want to do, keeping in mind Janko’s needs: “we always need to ask ourselves whether it’s accessible for us”.

Janko’s older sister recognises that her brother is never bothered by the fact that he has a disability: “I remember I asked him once if he were given the opportunity to have real legs would he take it, and he answered no.”

Janko Eelsingh running in blades – (c) Reino Eelsingh

Running in blades

Before finding his place in sports, Janko didn’t know what his goal in his life was. When he was at school, he remembers he couldn’t participate in a lot of sports because he only received his blades in 2016. “With normal prostheses is impossible to play any sport.”

The first sport he tried was gymnastics, but he immediately knew that it wasn’t for him. After that, he played football for more than 2 years. “When I started, I was very little. In the beginning it wasn’t that hard to catch up, but as we grew up, it was harder for me to come to their level” – he says. Therefore, he gave up football and started looking for something that suited him better. He tried badminton as well, but it wasn’t his sport like the other ones.

After trying these sports, he didn’t play any sport for a while because he had to go through a tough surgery to correct his stumps. He had to go into rehab and had to learn how to walk all over again. “It was important for me to keep moving so I started looking for sports again”.

This time he wanted to try a sport for disabled people. He found wheelchair basketball and blade running. He played in a wheelchair basketball team for more than 5 years, but recently realised that the team was not an option for him, sometimes feeling it holds him back.

Thus, he started running on blades.  A sport like running fits him, because he does it for himself and he can focus on getting better at something he does. “When I’m running I feel like I can conquer the world and it feels like I’m flying. I always feel better when I’m running. If I’m having a hard time, I go running and I feel better. This is the sport I want to do for the rest of my life” – he affirms.

Janko Eelsingh with his wheelchair basketball team – (c) Reino Eelsingh

Furthermore, Janko’s parents were very emotional the first time they saw him running in blades. “He was never able to run so fast so that was so great to see. A problem isn’t a problem if you don’t make it a problem’’ – they say. Reino, his older sister, affirms that when her brother is running she sees that he completely changes. “I remember he told me that at first it felt like he was flying and that it was one of the greatest feelings he ever had. When he talks about running, his face just brightens up” – she admits.

Janko’s main goal is participating in the Paralympics. Nevertheless, he had to take a break from running for a while because of school. Now he is picking it up again, so there are some things he needs to work on. He thinks he is better than he used to be, but he sometimes wonders where he would be now if he never took a break from running. He recognises that he is far from ready to attend the Paralympics, but, as he says, it is definitely not impossible: “I am working so hard on getting better every day, so I hope that I am good enough for the Paralympics in a few years. I don’t care whether it’s 2020, 2024 or even 2028, I just want that to be my goal”.

Janko is training to achieve his goal in a few years, no matter when. He strongly believes that if you really want to achieve something, you can do it. The clue for him is: “never give up on what you believe in, always believe in yourself and surround yourself with positivity”. 

by Núria Cardús