‘Life doesn’t have to stop because you’re paralyzed’

Bruno Hansen has never been one to surrender. We spoke to the world adaptive surfing champion about his quest to earn a new set of bionic legs.

'Life doesn’t have to stop because you’re paralyzed'
Bruno Hansen

He survived a tsunami, has sailed the world and surfed the highest of waves. Now all he wants is a chance to walk again.

Meet Bruno Hansen, the world's top-ranked disabled surfer whose friends have launched a GoFundMe campaign to get him back on his feet with the help of bionic legs.

Born to a Danish father in Zimbabwe, Hansen spent most of his youth in South Africa and became a regular adrenaline junkie. He embraced surfing, sailing, diving and the martial arts.

When a 1998 car hijacking in Cape Town left him paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 27, Hansen fell into despair thinking that his action-packed life may be over. For a time he even lost the will to live, attempting a suicide in the place that had previously given him so much happiness: the ocean.

“I was 'finding' myself again, learning how to cope with life and dealing with the mental strain of being 'stuck' – physically, mentally, spiritually, financially, romantically etc. I cracked and tried to drown but instead got back into surfing,” he told The Local. 

“Surfing and being in the ocean has saved me and created the person I am now. I am grateful for life's harsh lessons, they've made me strong in many ways,” he added.

Hansen reemerged from his failed suicide attempt feeling like he had “rebooted”. He embraced a life of positivity and returned to both sailing and surfing, doing both in locations around the world. 

Little did he know he would be facing a bigger wave this time around – much bigger. The tsunami that devastated much of Southeast Asia in December 2004 also hit Hansen and the boat he was in. Luckily he managed to avoid major injuries and he continued on his journey of self-discovery and improvement.

“Life doesn’t have to stop because you’re paralyzed,” Hansen said in his GoFundMe video.

And life has not stopped for him at all. In 2015 Hansen represented Denmark and was crowned the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Adaptive Surfing Champion in the prone division.

He now has another goal: to walk again. His friends have set up a fundraising campaign to get him a new pair of ReWalk 6 bionic leg.

But Hansen didn't want a free ride. He has set out three major challenges in order to “earn” the chance to walk again. Later this month, he and two other paraplegic surfer friends will sail 1,200 kilometres in a high endurance race from the US states of Washington to Alaska. The journey will take ten days and will be done on an unmodified standard yacht – a feat never before accomplished by a fully disable crew. 

His other two challenges are to win the AccesSurf Adaptive Surf Competition in Hawaii in August and to reclaim the ISA title later in the year. 

“I didn't want to just beg for money. I like to raise awareness and contribute something back. Hopefully people will follow what Im up to and it may add something positive to their lives as well,” he told us.

The campaign, set up by two of Hansen's friends, has raised over £12,000 of its £70,000 target in just five days.

“I'm completely flabbergasted by the generous response from people around the world. I personally would like to go and find each and every one of them one day to thank them and 'show off' the bionic legs and shake their hands at eye level,” he said.

While his story has touched people around the world, as of Wednesday there had been no donations from Denmark, where he spent some of his school years and which he still loves and hopes to represent in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. 

To support Hansen, whose friends jokingly call him “Indiana Jones on wheels”, you can donate to the GoFundMe campaign and follow his journey on Facebook.

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