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What motivates you to make the most of your life?

What do you do when life takes a different direction than you had planned: do you think in terms of limitations or do you look for opportunities? Paul Ramakers chose the latter approach and is now happier than ever. Among other things, he discovered that his children and handbiking were the source of his passion and drive. In this essay, he explains that it all comes down to resilience, energy and motivation.

'It all started with a lump on my shin that kept getting bigger. I still remember it well. The doctors at the hospital thought it was a calcified bruise. That sounded pretty plausible to me, especially since I was an avid indoor football player and a regular mountain biker. I’d probably bumped into something along the way.

‘However, after two years of walking around with this lump on my shin, I got the shock of my life: the calcified bruise turned out to be a malignant tumour. Without a moment's hesitation, I decided to have my lower leg amputated – fortunately I had no metastases. It felt like I was given a second chance at life.

‘In retrospect, I dare say that having my lower leg amputated was a turning point in my life – in a positive sense, that is. As crazy as that sounds. This terrible event made me think about why I do certain things in life the way I do, and why I get up every morning in high spirits. 

'I decided to completely turn my life around. Without realising it, I wasn't living my life the way I wanted to. I asked myself what my passion and motivations were in life. I realised that I had to live wholeheartedly, something I had not done enough until then.

'I quit the job in which I’d invested for years. I also started to be mindful of my diet and of my physical and mental constitution. I go to swimming and football with my children – which I’d never done before. I enjoy it immensely.

'In addition to my children and a healthy lifestyle, I found another new passion in life. During my rehabilitation, my physical therapist pointed out that it wasn’t a good idea to keep walking on crutches. I went looking for alternatives to build up my fitness again, and came across handbiking.

‘Once on the bike, I soon noticed that I was getting physically and mentally fit. I loved going for long rides, covering many kilometres. Instead of working with my mind, as I used to do, I now work with my body. I got a little stronger every day. A nice side effect was that my body started to look better too. I went from eating unhealthy food and not getting enough sleep to a healthy diet and lots of exercise.

'But more importantly, I also noticed improvements mentally. I was amazed by the freedom in my mind compared to the period before my lower leg was amputated. I am now experiencing firsthand how much energy you can get from exercise. Thanks to my physical fitness, I’ve gained even greater mental resilience.

‘Exercise is the catalyst for all kinds of positive processes in my body. I often say: movement leads to movement. Those who become more physically active also do so on other fronts. My body cries out at me to get moving when it’s been too long since the last time. And I echo that, because I know I feel better when I’m active.

‘It soon turned out that I had a talent for handbiking. I won a silver medal for my first tough race, which gave me a huge boost. And eight months after my lower leg was amputated, sports umbrella organisation NOC*NSF also saw my potential. I have regional elite athlete status and train hard four times per week.

'Handbiking is my passion and it's one of the reasons I wake up every day with a big smile on my face, chasing that one goal: gold at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. I won't do it for any less than that. I am more passionate, determined and resilient than ever.  

'Another big difference is that I used to be a soloist. Now I seek out much greater connection and contact with others, training together, enjoying each other’s company and pushing each other to the limit. If you’re having a bad day, your training buddy will pull you through.’

‘I want to show others how important it is to be passionate and motivated, and how big an impact your lifestyle has on your body – both positive and negative. If you have an unhealthy lifestyle, this can be the cause of many diseases of affluence. On the other hand, a healthy lifestyle is the best medicine against these same diseases.

‘I know better than most how much energy an unhealthy, stressful lifestyle costs you. But I’ve also experienced how much energy you can get from a healthy lifestyle with lots of exercise. That's why I set up Smartbeat. Our company gives you powerful insights into your stress, sleep, physical activity and recovery, resulting in a meaningful and balanced lifestyle.

‘Anyone can achieve this. Even when life goes differently than you’d planned – just look at me, for example. This is precisely when resilience, energy and motivation come into play. The most beautiful things can often come out of that. Now I often ask others: what motivates you to make the most of your life?’

Author: Paul Ramakers, inspirer