Marc Herremans' incredible journey continues to make a difference

If you ever have to push yourself out the door to get a workout done, read this. Marc Herremans shows us all what we are capable of.

| November 9, 2016 | PERSONALITY

Photo >

Inspiration? Does it get more inspiring than this? Marc Herremans is the most reluctant hero you’ll ever come across. But he’s a hero none the less. If you ever get a chance to meet this guy in person, do it. You’ll have a rough time complaining about anything in your life ever again.

In 2000 he did his first Ironman in Austria. Riding in second place, alongside none other than Tim DeBoom, he gets two flats. After coming off the bike in 35th, Herremans ran his way to 11th. A year later he finished sixth in Kona (DeBoom took his first Kona title that day).

A few months after that, while training in Lanzarote, Herremans was in a bike accident and became paralyzed from the chest down. Despite insane odds, Herremans was back in Kona just eight months after his accident, this time to compete in the handcycle division. A few years later he pushed the great Carlos Moleda to both a course record and a world-best 10:30:54 clocking in Kona. He would eventually take the Kona handcycle title.

Here’s what’s frightening about his amazing athletic achievements in that chair: he never liked it and much of it hurt like hell.

“It was because the accident broke my back, but it wasn’t allowed to break my dreams,” he said in an interview at Challenge Aruba, an event he helped out as an ambassador. “Before the accident my dreams were to win the Ironman in Hawaii, doing the Crocodile Tour, because I like sports and adventure and my third dream, to became a father, was the most powerful. I have some metal gear in my neck and when I do the wheelchair stuff in the marathon it hurts like hell. I don’t want to take medication, though – I haven’t since the accident. I’m almost never sick, which is unusual for someone who has a high paralysis like me. I do my rehab every day for three hours, even here in Aruba. For me that’s more important than any medal – staying healthy for my kids.”

Yep, you saw that right. There are two kids. Herremans achieved all of his goals. Each and every day he’s a walking – ok, make that moving - and talking inspirational tape. He’s endlessly positive. He’s created a foundation that raises money to help kids in wheelchairs get into sports and also helps with spinal cord injury research. He has become a sought after inspirational speaker for events like the one in Aruba. What means the most to him, though, is when he gets to go to schools to do presentations – and is surprised at what a difference his appearance makes. Earlier this year he made a trip to Aruba and spoke to a group of disabled children.

Marc Herremans works with a group of disabled youth along with some Special Olympics athletes in Aruba.

Marc Herremans works with a group of disabled youth along with some Special Olympics athletes in Aruba.

“I did a talk and there was one kid who was really shy,” he said. “It was a guy who lost the feeling in his lower legs, so he has to run with special gear. When I came back for the race he came to me and said “Marc, I have to thank you. Before your speech I was really lazy, but after I heard you speak you opened my eyes. I ended up going to Rio for the Paralympic games. I was the only person from Aruba who competed in the Paralympic games.”

As inspirational as Herremans is, he wants none of it.

“I want to be the normal guy who walks with his daughters and his dog through the woods in Belgium,” he said. “I wanted to fulfill my dream, but not as an example or an inspiration for someone else. I’m just a normal guy who follows his dream.

“If you can help people it’s really nice and at the “To Walk Again” foundation we help lots of people. For me, it’s really difficult to sit on a stage and be an example or a hero because I just followed my dreams. I don’t want to be an example, but life doesn’t always go the way you want.”

One of the most important messages Herremans imparts through his foundation is the importance of physical rehabilitation.

“I need it (the therapy),” he says. “During the day, if I don’t have time to do my exercises or get out on my wheelchair with my dog, at night I’m in so much pain. For me it’s like medication. If I don’t have time during the day, sometimes I’m training at 1 o’clock in the morning.

“We’re still fighting to be able to walk again. We say to the kids “do your rehab every day” because first it keeps them away from medication and second, if one day we find a solution and they are able to walk again, they need to be ready.”

Marc Herremans is the ultimate example of “practice what you preach.” He’s not just an inspiration to children and atheltes with disabilities, he’s an inspiration to us all. You don’t have time for that 30-min run at lunch? And this guy finds three hours a day to do rehab so he doesn’t have to take pain medication?

Yes. Inspiration.