“This is where Active Hands changed my life. The whole body can be worked confidently: the pectorals, arms, shoulders, back… I have access to machines safely. I can use dumbells, do pull-ups, the cable machine… and I know that I have other possibilities too.”

55 year old Stéphane lives in a small town in the South West of France in a house he shares with a friend. He describes himself optimistic, ambitious and stubborn… character traits that have proved to be hugely important in overcoming setbacks and tackling challenges in his adventurous life.

25 years ago, while working as a hotel manager in Paris and London, Stéphane experienced a stroke, which turned his life upside down. The stroke resulted in right-side hemiplegia. As well as affecting his ability to use his right foot, Stéphane also struggled with gripping and manipulating items with his right hand. In particular, gardening or completing DIY tasks became frustrating and difficult. “I couldn’t hold anything,” he explains.

A long battle to rehabilitate awaited him and with the support of close friends and his brother, Marc, Stéphane soon began to focus on some motivational challenges.

“My best friend Géraldine, shortly after my admission to the first functional re-education centre, sent me a pair of sneakers to motivate me to get back to life. I made her the promise to fight.

With time and experience in the rehabilitation centres, I realised that this handicap was perhaps a chance. That instead of undergoing it, I had to tame it. I was alive and had nothing to lose, but on the contrary everything to live [for]. Rather than hiding and moping in my corner, I armed myself to fight better with a smile and humour.”

In 2017, the dream of completing the GR20 walk was born, to “honour the promise made to Géraldine”. The GR20 is an exhilarating walk from the north to the south of Corsica, described as, “arguably the toughest walking route in Europe.”

Planned for June 2018, with the help of a dynamic foot lifter, Stéphane began to train hard, hiking with friends and trekking groups in the Pyrenees and along the Basque coast. In May 2018, at a final health check before departing, Stéphane experienced a huge shock when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. But even this didn’t deter him from his goal. “It was impossible for me to give up. I didn’t think about it… I promised to start treatment as soon as I returned.”

Stephane smiles as he points to a congratulations sign, indicating that he had completed the GR20 walk.

Following treatment for his cancer, Stéphane returned to sport in 2019, ready to take on new adventures, including a recumbent bike route with Adventyre Handicap France, which took him 923km through France and Spain. Tragically, shortly before the trip, Stéphane lost his brother and close support, Marc and the challenging bike ride took on an even more significant meaning.

“My brother knew the human adventure that I had to live through this trip. On arrival at the Atlantic Ocean, my tears flowed with joy and pride to have had a brother like mine. The finger pointed to the heavens, I dedicated my first bike ride to him.”

Stephane on his recumbent bike

Keen to keep making improvements in his physical well-being, and to take on new challenges, for the past year Stéphane has concentrated on working out in the gym (thought he has a few big adventures in mind for the near future!). It was during his gym workouts that his hemiplegia began to limit how he could train his whole body. “I was mainly doing squats and steps… because it required a lot of concentration to hold my hemiplegic hand for [other equipment].” But while watching another hemiplegic sports person on YouTube, Stéphane discovered the Active Hands gripping aids.

Stephane rowing with a General purpose glove

“I contacted her and asked where she had bought this glove. As soon as I got the information, I ordered mine. This is where Active Hands changed my life.”

As for many of us, Covid-19 has put plans for adventures abroad on hold for a little while, but Stéphane is not deterred. Thanks to his Active Hands gripping aids (and his pretty incredible attitude to life!), his workouts are now broader than ever and plans for a road trip to Oman, as well as a mud run in France next year, are keeping him motivated. We can’t wait to hear what he gets up to next!

Jo Smith