Thursday, April 02, 2015

IOF Athlete of April: Hanka Doležalová

Our Athlete of the Month has been representing her country in two orienteering disciplines in World Championships: MTB and Trail Orienteering. Hanka Doležalová started as a mountain bike orienteer, but after a serious accident at the World Championships 2010 she was no longer able to bike or walk. Soon after she however found herself a new orienteering discipline: trail orienteering. Quite soon she became a member of the national team of Czech Republic in her new sport too. Still, Hanka says that her MTB orienteering background has not helped her too much in TrailO: “I think that the only thing these two sports have in common is wheels!”

Name: Hanka Doležalová
Country: Czech Republic
Discipline: Trail Orienteering
Career highlights: European TrailO Championships 2014 PreO, 22nd; TempO Qualification, 42nd. World TrailO Championships PreO, 28th. Unofficial European Cup in TrailO 2014 overall, 35th.

It’s a warm July day from the now-distant year of 2010. In the surroundings of Avelelas, in the north-east of Portugal, the qualification heats of the Long Distance for the World MTB Orienteering Championships are taking place. For the participants in the Women Elite class, the goal is to finish the race as fast as possible, and not mis-punch. But suddenly Hanka Doležalová, the Czech athlete, rides off the road, the bike’s front wheel gets stuck and the athlete flies over her bike, falling in a ditch on her back. This nasty accident would mean a 180-degree turn in the athlete’s life, compromising indefinitely her wishes and dreams. “My spine did not handle this somersault and I stayed lying in the ditch. I couldn’t feel my legs and torso, I couldn’t move and I was breathing heavily. I screamed a lot and hoped that someone would find me soon. Luckily, Anke [Danowski] and Melanie [Simpson] appeared quickly. I waited a very long time for the ambulance. It was a really hot day and my thirst was unbearable.”

Hanka was taken by ambulance firstly to the Hospital de Chaves and then to the Centro Hospitalar do Porto, where she suffered a spinal intervention in the dawn of the next day. In the morning, the news broadcast the accident and gave the prognosis. “I realised what had happened, even when I was still lying in the ditch. I just waited for any development”, she remembers.

On the way up in MTBO

MTBO was always very important in Hanka Doležalová’s life. In Portugal, the athlete was fighting in the World Championships for the second time. Needless to say, this was her number one sport. Even as a junior she was able to join the Senior National Team and the results started to appear. To her three qualifications in the 2008 World Championships top 10 (4th place in Sprint, 6th place in Middle Distance and 9th place in Long Distance) she added a gold Medal in Relay, in the team with Michaela Maresova and Hana Hancikova.

In the following year, already competing in Elite, the athlete gained 11th place in Middle Distance in the European Championships (North Zealand, Denmark) and 13th place, also in Middle Distance, in the World Championships (Ben Shemen, Israel). The objective was to make progress, get into the top 10, reach the medals, but mostly to enjoy. “Most of all, I really enjoyed MTBO”, she says. Her best score would end up being the 10th place, reached in the Sprint Finals of WMTBOC 2010, three days before the fateful accident.

Remembering her first rides holding a map, Hanka Doležalová refers to them as a part of the natural evolution of her taste for Orienteering, as well as for Mountain Biking. Practising Orienteering since she was a child, the bike was always there for her amusement. “I was 12 years old when I tried MTBO for the first time and I liked it a lot. I began to ride regularly at the age of 16”. From the short period of time she practised MTBO, Hanka can’t highlight any special moment as the best one, but says “it was a great party”.

The first steps of a new life

- Since the first moments of your physical rehab process, did you want to forget MTB Orienteering or did things not happen exactly like that?

“Never. My MTBO friends visited me a lot at the beginning and I was glad for that. I was interested in what was new in the MTBO world. After all, it had been my world too.”

- Would you like to tell us about this whole process of rehabilitation and how your competitive attitude has been important in establishing a life of your own again?

“It was a long process. I went back home after eight months. I believe that, in my case, it is not so much about competitive attitude as it is about my nature.”

Radical experiences

Hanka’s nature and attitude prevented her from putting sport aside. The variety of adapted sports in the Czech Republic led her to try a wide range of sports, some of them really attractive, other ones not so much. “I like to explore and try new activities. Already during my convalescence (six months after the injury) I used to go home to the Krkonoše Mountains on weekends to learn how to ride a mono ski. And I found it absolutely normal. The less traditional activities are, for instance, my beloved water skiing or riding a four-wheeler.” But the athlete also does Cross-Country Skiing during the winter and participates in an annual survival competition: “It is a pair-race, the time limit is 24 hours and it includes about 16 different activities.”

On a short visit to Portugal in May 2012 Hanka was able to try adapted sailing. “It was incredible. I was amazed by the feeling of freedom”, she remembers, adding that: “Unfortunately there are not very good conditions for this activity in the Czech Republic.”

It’s TrailO time

Hanka Doležalová was introduced to Trail Orienteering by the organisers of an event. “My Orienteering club has organised a race for handicapped people for 18 years now and I worked there as an assistant and as an organiser”, she explains. It was around that time that she met Bohuslav Hůlka who, along with Jana Kosťová and others, would be decisive in her approach to TrailO after her injury; this has led to her entry into the Czech National Team. “They started to lure me right after the accident. They said I had to do TrailO because I was a successful orienteer”, she remembers.

One of her first excursions in this discipline took place in the city of Oporto in Portugal. Invited by the Desporto Adaptado Hospital Prelada, the athlete was the ‘godmother’ for their second open orienteering event and she participated in the competition as well: “I believe that the decision to participate in the Prelada Hospital Open race speeded up my introduction to TrailO”.

If I was in charge…

The adaptation to Trail Orienteering proved anything but easy for the athlete. The enormous differences to her other activities were the reasons that Hanka cites to justify her disappointment at that time. But what is there that makes TrailO so difficult? “To keep the sense of orienteering and not be put out by the range of measurement techniques one can use”, explains the athlete.

But there are other aspects that are relevant to this subject, one of which Hanka would pick as the one, if she had the power to, that would deserve the most attention and demand a rule of its own: “Make TrailO courses on asphalt roads! This is the only way I can be completely concentrated and focused on the map and the orienteering. Otherwise I put a lot of energy into just progressing, how to cope with narrow roads or how to pass rocks, roots and mud.”

Four brief questions

- For many, training for TrailO is a mystery. Could you tell me something about your work-out and what it is most important to train in order to apply it in a real course?

“It is a mystery for me too! I do not have any special training. I try to gain new experience by racing”.

- How important was the knowledge that you brought from MTB orienteering in this change to TrailO?

“I think that the only thing which these two sports have in common is wheels!”.

- Who are the athletes in this discipline that you most admire? Why?

“TempO athletes who are able to solve a cluster in 8 seconds”.

- Can anyone practise TrailO or is this, after all, not for everyone as we hear every day?

“Yes, everyone can do it, but it’s not granted you succeed. You do have to be precise”.

World Championships – yes, but…

Called in 2014 to represent the Czech National Team for the first time, Hanka Doležalová produced notable performances and, overall, pretty auspicious ones, not only in the European Championships in Portugal, but also in the World Championships which took place in Italy. Although Hanka keeps good memories from the times she wore the National Team’s sweater, she elects the Czech round of the Unofficial European Cup in Trail Orienteering as the best moment in 2014: “I ran a clear race and made no mistakes, including in the timed controls”.

In what matters in her objectives for 2015, the athlete is greedy in words. Will this be the year in which we see Hanka Doležalová step on to the podium of the World Championships? “First of all, I have to be successful in the qualification races”, she says.

A good reason to hold on to Orienteering!

Considered “a good way to go to places I never thought I’d go to in a wheelchair”, TrailO has for this athlete an added value in this particular time of her life. The reason is simple: “I´m not sure if I’m holding on to orienteering. But I am definitely holding on to one trail orienteer”, she says, smiling from ear to ear.

And she ends by saying that: “Some doors may be closed, but other doors will be opened.”

Questions & Answers

Tove Alexandersson, Athlete of the Month of March, asked: Where is your favourite place in the Czech Republic and why?

Hanka replied: “I have many favourite places in the Czech Republic, because it is a very beautiful and varied country. But my heart beats for the Krkonoše mountains where I live.”

Hanka Doležalová’s question to Baptiste Fuchs, Athlete of the Month of May: Are you going to come to the MTBO 5-days at Plzeň in 2015? What do you like the most about this event?

[Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido. See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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