Making Life Better
New York Times, Nov. 30, 2015
When Christopher Stewart met Katrin Wassmuth at a party in Zurich late one night in December 2009, he was instantly smitten, but he had to work hard to persuade her to give him a chance.
“We made a date, she canceled and it took me three months to get another date,” recalled Mr. Stewart, now 42, a Zurich-based executive at a wind energy company. “I kept chasing after her.”
As their relationship blossomed, Mr. Stewart, an avid surfer and adventure sport enthusiast originally from Pelham, Mass., won over Ms. Wassmuth, from Bochum, Germany. He had moved to Zurich in 2004, and later took up paragliding.
On Aug. 28, 2011, Mr. Stewart lost control of his glider and crash-landed near Interlaken, in the Swiss Alps. In a great deal of pain and unable to move his legs, he managed to use a phone app to summon a rescue helicopter. He then called Ms. Wassmuth, who was at the landing field.
Mr. Stewart is now a paraplegic but he is philosophical about that day, “a day that changed my life forever, but not at all in the negative,” he said. “In fact, it set the stage for someone to give a gift which did not just make good from bad, but made life itself better and more meaningful.”
After six months of shuttling between hospitals and a spinal injury institute near Lucerne, Mr. Stewart resumed his life in Zurich with Ms. Wassmuth, an executive assistant who has lived in Switzerland since 2000.
“While everyone around me, myself included, was trying to get used to and adjust to a new way of life, Katrin took it in stride, never looking back,” he said, adding, “It was not a change so much as a development in our lives together. The gift she gave was to never see me as someone who uses a wheelchair to get around, but rather me as I am, as I was before, and as I will always be.”
“When I am with her, I never feel disabled, and sometimes I forget I am using a wheelchair,” he said. “In Katrin’s view, the only thing stopping me from doing anything, and I mean anything — we are now downhill skiing, kite surfing, sailing, cycling and traveling the world — is me.”
“The core of this gift was not sympathy, but respect,” Mr. Stewart added. “Thanks to Katrin, I have been given back the responsibility of my own life. By treating me just like she did before, she has helped me regain my hold on life, for good and for bad. The result: We have done more since the accident than I suspect we could have ever done before.”
The aftermath? Mr. Stewart and Ms. Wassmuth were married in St.-Moritz, Switzerland, on March 15, 2014.