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Just outside Lucerne is the small city of Nottwil. The town is perhaps best known for its massive paraplegic center.
It’s where Marcel Hug trains.
HUG: Have you ever been here before?
HELMICK: No, I haven’t. It’s impressive. It’s a very big facility.
HELMICK: I’m having trouble keeping up with you by the way. Do you always go fast?
Marcel has been in a wheelchair nearly all his life. He has spina bifida. His spine never developed properly.
But that’s not what makes him special.
He’s a world class athlete who races in wheelchair events around the world. In a special carbon fiber wheelchair, he competes in 400 meter, 800 meter, 1,500 meter, 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter races and marathons. And he has set four world records, this year.
HUG: It’s a really good feeling. It’s amazing to be one of the top. But you know, it is sometimes difficult because everyone wants to beat you and once you are on that level, you want to stay on that level. That is not easy.
Hug grew up on a farm in Thurgau with three older brothers, and at age 10, started in sports. Spurred on by his coach, he entered a junior wheelchair race.And Marcel was hooked.
“I am not a better person because of my performance, my success.”
His coach, Paul Odermatt, is still with him at the center in Nottwil.
ODERMATT: We started 14 years ago, and I think it is really fantastic. He was growing up from a boy—10-years old—to a man—24-years old. And we learned so many things together. I think it is a process for him and for me.
Odermatt says he learned how to train wheelchair athletes because of Marcel and now he trains nearly a dozen junior athletes.
ODERMATT: I have at the moment 10 or 12 juniors, both boys and girls, and all of them want to become like Marcel. And it is really good. In a lot of training sessions, they are training together. Marcel is also on the track. He is doing his program and beside (Marcel), the juniors are doing their program. Sometimes they can do things together.
HELMICK: And Marcel, what is it like to hear that the juniors athletes want to be like you?
HUG: Oh, it’s nice to hear. And I hope they can have the same success as me.
HELMICK: And you spend a lot of time out there helping them?
HUG: Yeah, I train with them a lot and they ask me some things. Yeah, I hope I can help them.
It’s been quite a year for Marcel. He went from being just another racer to the top of his game in 2010. His four world records were set in June. And since then has finished first in every event he’s been in including at Athletissma in Lausanne and the WeltKlasse in Zurich.
HELMICK: The people here at the paraplegic center, are you are star now to them? Are you like a celebrity now?
HUG: (laughs) No, I don’t think so.
HELMICK: You’re just the same guy you were two years ago?
HUG: Yeah, I hope so.
HELMICK: You hope so? You don’t want to be a star and get special treatment and all of that?
HUG: Of course, I like to have due respect for my performance, but I don’t want to be different. Yeah, I am not a better person because of my performance, my success.
Hug says his big goals are winning the upcoming world championships and then the Paralympics in London in 2012.