Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Meet the Dubai-based para-athlete hoping to inspire others to reach their goals

At age 11, Sebastian Jensen lost his left leg in a boat accident in his native Denmark. His indomitable spirit has continually pushed him beyond his limits, with his next goal to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics

Sebastian Jensen is used to pushing limits.

In 2013, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching the summit despite the dehydration sending him almost delusional. His water had frozen during the final, 10-hour hike through the night to scale the peak, but still, he sat at the top, taking photos, recording videos for his parents, surrendering to his emotions.

Then, in 2016, and inspired by his uncle, Jensen completed a first Ironman triathlon close to his home, in Copenhagen. He forced himself through the pain to persevere, completing the 3.86 kilometre swim, 180.25km bike ride and 42.2km marathon, determined to pay homage to a friend who had died earlier that year.

In fact, the indomitable spirit stretches back to 1999. Back to when, age 11, Jensen’s left leg got pulled through the propeller of his sailing coach’s boat as he practiced a capsizing drill and his life changed for ever.

Within eight months of having his leg amputated, Jensen was back on the water, and went on to represent Denmark at national and international level.

That mettle is again evident now. The para-athlete devotes himself to training full-time having relocated from Denmark to Dubai last year. Sights are set on another remarkable endeavor, Jensen willing once more to force himself to the very edge.

He is determined to not simply compete in the triathlon at next year’s Tokyo Paralympics - he attempted to make Rio three years ago - and to medal there, but more importantly, he has a message to advance. That, with the right mindset, anything is possible.

“It’s been a goal before and something that I really want to succeed with,” the 31 year old says after a morning swim session at FitRepublik in Dubai Sports City. “But for me, the main reason why I do a lot of these things is because I discovered how many people I can inspire.

“I found out that, the more you go beyond your own limits and find a journey in that, the more people really open their eyes to it.

“So if I do this, if I make the Paralympics, I can reach out further, touch a lot of people and get their attention, inspire them to reach their goals. That’s also what motivates me. That’s the main thing I’ve learned: to try and take the ego out of it and go for something bigger than that. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Achieving that goal continues in earnest this weekend. Jensen is currently in Australia, contesting the Devonport ITU Paratriathlon World Cup, part of what appears a convoluted trek to Tokyo. In paratriathlon, the World Cups determine a participant's global ranking, with the qualification process for the 2020 Games running this June to next.

Events inside that period – European Championships, World Championships, etc offer more points than others – but to be eligible for those an athlete must sit inside the world’s top 20.

Currently 38th in his classification, and with his three best events counting towards his position in the standings, Jensen will head to Madrid and Japan in the next few months to bump up his ranking. Ultimately, to stamp his ticket to Tokyo, he needs to be inside the top 10 in his specific category during the qualification period.

It’s an arduous, and costly, pursuit. But, true to form, Jensen is up for the fight.

“Moving to Dubai has allowed me to commit to this full-time, and not many para-athletes can do that,” he says. “Here has opened that up for me. It’s a unique thing for me, a huge advantage. Something I didn't have for Rio, when I was juggling my job with training. Now I can feel myself getting stronger, faster. Being in Dubai is something that can ramp me up the world rankings, fast.”

As suggested, the financial commitment is just as taxing as the physical. Jensen estimates he could spend between Dh200,000 and Dh300,000 in his Paralympics bid. His running blade alone, which he bought six years ago, cost Dh60,000. Indeed, he has four different prostheses: one for biking, one for running, one for everyday use, one for water and watersports. All are carbon. All are therefore expensive.

Being in Dubai is something that can ramp me up the world rankings, fast.

Sponsors, though, have helped with some aspects, such as clothing, although that’s only a small part of his budget. Yet Jensen hopes, as his profile increases in Dubai, more will come on board.

“It’s really hard in Denmark to create that brand around yourself because the interest is not that big, in the same way it is here,” he says. “If you have a special story here people pick it up really fast and you get recognised. I get stopped on the street every day, by people who’ve seen me somewhere, spotted me somewhere else.

“I am seen biking at Al Qudra or Nad Al Sheba, on the running track at the beach or in the swimming pools I use. I get noticed everywhere. People come and say hi, discover my story, get inspired.

“They say it’s cool that I’m so open about my disability. And that makes me feel really cool. I hope it encourages people to come out of their shell, too.”

Jensen credits his wife Pia, whom he met through a triathlon club in Denmark, coach Tom Walker and the people at InnerFight, for carrying him this far, contributing to both his motivation and his promotion.

He is involved in motivational speaking as well, keen to get his message out there, to act as a catalyst for changing people's lives for the good. His perspective on what happened in the water in Denmark in 1999, both remarkable and resolute, would be enough to galvanise even the most resistent.

“I never really cried about the accident like expected,” Jensen says. “You could actually say I was pretty lucky that, if this accident should happen at any time, it happened when I was 11 years old. I’ve been able to build my identity around this thing.

“As a child you just go on so easy. I’ve met people who lost limbs in their 20s or later and it can destroy them mentally. I’ve been able to put up my personality around this since I was a child and it’s definitely been a good thing looking at it that way.

“I have a pretty unique story; one thing is the accident, but I believe that’s a small part of my journey. How did I find myself as a disabled person during my life? How did I prevail to do extraordinary things? That’s the story I really want to tell. I think it’s a really exciting one.”

Updated: March 6, 2019 03:51 PM

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