Being a keen swimmer and then you got stricken by fate. Frederic Van Kerckhove (46) was someone like that. But despite his disability and the things he has to deal with, he keeps faith in life. “I don’t believe that people want to bully. They just don’t know better.”

24 years ago, Frederic had an accident about which he does not want to say more about. At the age of 22, the young man was a fervent swimmer. Nowadays, he teaches mentally and physically disabled children and adults to swim and play ball games for the non-profit association Wapper.

“I receive a lot of love and energy from all the kids I learn to swim and play ball games. It keeps me young and active”, says Frederic. “After my accident, I never lost faith in life. It’s hard to hear and realise that you never could use your legs anymore, but I quickly went looking for associations that are engaged with disabled persons.”

Speechless at the campsite

“You know… Life hits you in the face. I would totally be a liar if I say that my accident didn’t change me or doesn’t do anything to me. I still experience it every day. If you want to take the tram, than just your tram is an old one, so the floor is not on street level. In Italy, they use the Belgian busses that can move to the ground. In Belgium they are not in use. How?”

Unless all the experiences, Frederic still believes in life. “I don’t think that they want to bully disabled people. They just don’t know better. If my family and I go to a campsite, we always send some emails in advance. Then they answer that they are very open to disabled people, but when you arrive, the toilet is not open, or I don’t know what. Once I said in a restaurant that they had to close the ‘normal’ toilets and let mine open. They were speechless.”

Heroes

Frederic has a wife and one daughter, who has autism. “I feel like other fathers. I am happy with my family. They are my support and my goal in life. I met my wife at a swim course. She didn’t know me before my accident. We met each other in a very funny way, but that’s something between us. Our daughter now is thirteen years old. She has autism. The difficult times are coming up right now. Surely, because of her autism. She needs structure and in puberty, children don’t know that much structure.”

“My family is the most important thing in my life. My parents dragged me through the worst period in my life. They always supported me and told me to never give up. I had a lot of surgeries and with each of them, they were always next to me at the hospital. They are my biggest idols. I love them so much. They still are a voice of reason.”

People are people

As a born and raised Antwerpian, Frederic has got faith in his city. “Antwerp is a very divers city. I love to live here. The city is more focusing on people with a disability. Okay, the old trams are still there and curbs are making it more difficult to ride, but at the most places I go, everything is functional for my wheelchair and me. Can they still do more? Of course. Is it too late that they started focusing on it? Maybe. But in a very small period, the city did very well.”

“But when I go to the supermarket or when I see a cd store and it only has steps to enter it, I am upset. And I don’t like to ask people for some help. Maybe, that’s my stubborn part. Also, when I have swimming class, I am stubborn. I want the children to go to their maximum. Then I only will be happy after a training. And when they had fun, of course.”

“My wife always calls me stubborn, but also very kind, helpful, and someone who often hits his head against the wall. I would call myself also like that. I don’t care what others think about me. I know that my wife, daughter and my family are behind me and behind what I’m doing and that’s the most important thing in life. There must be more tolerance in life. As well as in religions, (non-)meat eaters, gay or not, … People are just people. We are not superior to other animals or the one is not better than the other. We all have our own strengths. Politics are nothing for me, but I want to see that as a change in this world.”

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