The Comeback Of Glen Christiansen

The Comeback Of Glen Christiansen

It was great to see the comeback of Glen Christiansen, a former Swedish Olympic breaststroker who has long competed in the open water.

In February 2013, Christiansen suffered a fall down a flight of stairs whilst in Tenerife, fracturing his skull from ear to ear.By the looks of his crumbled body at the bottom of the stairs and his damaged brain through x-rays, it appeared unlikely that the Olympian was ever coming back. He was flown to Hamburg, Germany and kept in an induced coma for three weeks.The life out of the personable coach had been knocked out of him in one inexplicably unfortunate accident.

But within six months Christiansen had recovered sufficiently to compete in a 2.5 km open water swim in the river Elbe outside of Hamburg, Germany.

As Christiansen always encourages his athletes, he was not going to quit. He willed his way back to health even though he was given only a 30% chance to live by the doctors who treated him. They thought Christiansen was most probably going to be mentally incapacitated for the rest of his life.

But miracles happen. After waking up from his coma in the hospital, Christiansen told himself, “I will get well, but I must take it step-by-step with patience. This is a challenge for me.

He knew he was lucky. But he also knew that he needed to combine the opportunity to come back with significant effort. “I survived due to my physical fitness and my willpower, fighting spirit – so the doctors say. As I woke up after the coma, my first thought went to my little son Noe. I knew that I MUST win this one.”

He battled every day, during every rehabilitation session. He utilized his doctor’s pessimistic predictions as motivation. He wanted to prove the medical analysis wrong and make his life better. But he also faced paralysis on his left side and initially was unable to speak.

After training his body to become an Olympian, he suddenly could not move his left side. After a post-Olympic career of coaching, lecturing, and laughing during conversations, he suddenly could not talk. But even though he was trapped in a physically weakened state where he split his skull from ear to ear, he still could think clearly and pushed himself as much as he ever had before.

Gradually, Christiansen started to make believers of his own doctors. Every day he progressed bit by bit. His doctor remarked, “Normally Glen would be hospitalized 6-8 months after injuries like this. We never seen anything like it“.

Three months after his crippled body was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, Christiansen swam in the open water in Beirut. Christiansen said, “Being in Beirut, I met all these kids and adults who have been praying for me. They give me so much energy that I decided today to go out and swim with them in the ocean. It was a fantastic feeling and I am so happy. I need to recover and rest a lot these days. It will take time before I am as strong as before. But that is OK. After all, I am alive and swimming.”

Six months after his traumatic accident, Christiansen estimated he was 80% recovered. “I’m back racing. I won an international open water race in the river Elbe outside of Hamburg: the Hamburger Freiwasserschwimmen 2.5 km in 35 minutes, out-swimming a group of 19-20 year old competitive swimmers. It was a great feeling. People were really excited and happy. Me too. It was my first race since the accident. I swam under a club name that I invented and named after my son: Noe’s Papa.”

Later, he was invited to Japan to give swimming clinics where he met Californians Lexie Kelly and Steven Munatones [see race poster above], and spent time writing a book about swimming, Schwimmen.

He was nominated the2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year: Glen Christiansen was crumbled at the bottom of the stairs with blood oozing from his ears, nose, and eyes. For nearly 4 weeks, he was in a coma, and for weeks later he remained in intensive care with a bacterial infection. When he woke, his entire left side was paralyzed and he could not talk. Yet the 1980 Swedish Olympian was not about to prove his doctor’s prognostications correct by never talking or walking again. Instead, he acted like a warrior and went to battle with his weakened and traumatized body. He had a tremendous spirit and will to improve and return to coaching swimmers. Within 6 months, Christiansen was back coaching and competing in the open water against people half his age. For his positive mindset, his inspiration to never give up in spite of traumatic physical setbacks, for his example of following his own advice as a coach and motivator, Glen Christiansen is a worthy nominee for the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

Other nominated in 2013 included the following heroes:

1. Alexander Brylin, Ice Swimmer from Siberia (Russia)
2. Damián Blaum, Around The World Marathoner (Argentina)
3. Darren Miller, Achieving the Oceans Seven (U.S.A.)
4. Doug Woodring, Energetic Environmentalism (Hong Kong)
5. Glen Christiansen, Recovering from Trauma (Sweden)
6. Jim McConica, Ageless Wonder (U.S.A.)
7. Jose Diaz, Horizontes Sin Fronteras (Spain)
8. Mally Richards, 60 Years In The Making (South Africa)
9. Oussama Mellouli, Olympic Ambassador (Tunisia)
10. Pádraig Mallon, Extraordinaire Event Director & Swimmer (Ireland)
11. Rafael Gutiérrez Mesa, Getting Things Strait in Gibraltar (Spain)
12. Thomas Lurz, World Champion (Germany)
13. Tomi Stefanovski, Mastering the Traversee (Macedonia)
14. Vojislav Mijić, Tirelessly Resilient Race Director (Serbia)
15. Wayne Riddin, Midmar Mile Miracle (South Africa)

Poster above shows Christiansen south of Tokyo at a Japan International Open Water Swimming Association race.

Copyright © 2008 – 2021 by World Open Water Swimming Association