It's one of the most exciting and toughest adventure races in the world and Paul Guschlbauer is one of the most successful participants, securing top rankings for years in a row. This year, the Austrian was preparing harder than ever before for the Red Bull X-Alps, which takes athletes on a 1,200 km journey through the Alps. He wants to finally stand on top of the podium.
When Paul realised that there was no longer any ground beneath his skis, it was too late to react. Paul found himself falling several metres.When he got up and noticed the hard impact to his right foot, he instantly knew that he wasn't getting away with a scratch. He tried to stand up and looked at his broken ski boot. All alone in the mountains in thick fog, he knew that a helicopter wouldn't find him in this weather. He'd have to get himself to a hospital.
It was already midday and the weather wasn't the best when Paul decided to spontaneously engage in another training session. He was in the middle of his preparations for the X-Alps 2021 - the largest competition in paragliding sport. Salzburger Paul Guschlbauer is one of the most experienced participants in the starting lineup for the Red Bull X-Alps. He's started arguably the world's most demanding adventure race five times, has always reached the end and has placed third four times. This is an extraordinary achievement for a race in which very few athletes even see the finish line.
His dream was always to participate in this competition - but dreams and goals change - and so Paul wanted to finally win this year.
And so, on this day, he'd set out to climb yet another snow-capped mountain near his home of Hallein. It's a mountain he knows well and describes as one of his local mountains. Cycling, skiing, hiking - Paul loves the variety of training options nature has to offer. As Paul made his way to the top in bad weather and thick fog, he decided to continue his training session and hike to the summit. During his descent, he would ski back down the tracks he'd left behind.
But Paul underestimated the lack of visibility. He fell and had to ski his way back into the valley himself. He knew that no one could save him here.
„I missed a cornice due to the total white-out in the fog, fell a few metres and hit my foot really hard."
The X-ray images and doctors' diagnosis at Salzburg University Hospital confirmed Paul's fears: his right ankle bone was broken. The hospital's medical prognoses offered little hope for Paul: six weeks in a cast and total foot rest. After that, he'd need to learn to walk properly again. Paul made a projection. It was 11 March. The Red Bull X-Alps would start on 20 June in around 13 weeks' time.
Paul's battle against time was underway. Together with the doctors and physios at the Athlete Performance Center (APC), he established a plan to be ready for the start of the X-Alps 2021. While resting his foot, Paul's primary goal was to remain mentally positive. He couldn't go running as he couldn't place strain on his foot.
After several weeks in a cast, Paul tentatively began tests on an exercise bike. From the tests, Paul had to accept that proper training in a cast simply wasn't working. Patience was required to avoid damaging his body and foot. Any setbacks would be sure to put him out of this year's competition.
Paul's foot cast was removed at the start of May and revealed how much muscle mass he had lost during the recovery phase. An MRI was taken for clarification. Would Paul's bone have healed or would the X-ray images show a tear in his metatarsal? The Red Bull X-Alps takes place every two years. If he wasn't fit in time, he'd have to wait another two years until the next event.
To his huge relief, the images showed a healed metatarsal bone. However, the hospital doctors were sceptical about Paul's plans to completely rebuild his fitness in four weeks to be ready for the huge demands of the X-Alps. But Paul displayed absolute resolve and, together with his physiotherapists, began to rebuild himself step by step. Paul and his physio team knew that he mustn't overdo it. Recovery combined with strength training and BLACKROLL® resistance bands were important for success. Regular, targeted rolling with the BLACKROLL® and fascia balls featured on the daily programme and helped Paul's muscles to quickly recover after training.
„Giving up was never an option! My desire to take part in the X-Alps motivated me to work on recovery each day.“
On 20 June, he wanted to stand on the Mozartplatz in Salzburg and listen to the countdown. The next four weeks would determine whether this would be as a participant or merely as a spectator.
On the day of the X-Alps 2021, Paul stood on the Mozartplatz with very mixed feelings. Extremely tough weeks with emotional highs and lows were behind him. As with every edition of this adventure race, all hell breaks loose at the start: spectators, athletes, media representatives, sponsors - a giant spectacle until the athletes finally run across the square towards Gaisberg to tackle the first stage of the X-Alps. He knows that this year will be different.
As the countdown starts and the cheering of the spectators gets louder, he looks up towards the helicopter hovering over the square. Paul managed it: he's at the start of the Red Bull X-Alps 2021. He hears the final countdown: "3, 2, 1 Go!" and sets off.