The strong-willed Peter Schermann has proven that there is life after suffering a stroke.
The 32-year-old German mountain biker, who would have tackled this year’s Cape Epic alongside heart transplant survivor Elmar Sprink, never thought his life would change in the blink of an eye on April 17, 2017.
“It’s a day that I will never forget,” said the lanky former basketball player.
“When my best friend wanted to pick me up for a training session, I was standing in my kitchen, suddenly unable to speak or move in a coordinated manner.
“Luckily for me, he responded immediately and called the ambulance. In the hospital, I received the diagnosis that I never thought was possible: a stroke.”
It was the last thing he expected as he was in top shape and even finished on the podium in a race three days prior.
“I’ve never had health issues and had regular heart checks throughout my 20-year career as a basketball player.”
He said it had been a huge shock and he had no idea where it came from.
“Now I finally know that I had a small hole in my heart, also known as patent foramen ovale, which they’ve closed now.”
Everything felt different after the stroke, but he was lucky to be able to move normally.
“The world you had before will never be the same again. I had a lot of things to think about and had to get my life back on track.”
Schermann, who rides for the Canyon Embrace the World Cycling team, said he initially had huge problems concentrating and only limited power. That carried on for two-and-a-half months, which naturally affected his fitness levels.
“The first time back on a mountain bike I fell to one side – I just couldn’t balance. I didn’t think I’d go back to a racing level.
“But the stroke showed me that everything can be over in a glimpse, so I decided to focus on being the best pro mountain biker I could be.”
The risk manager started to work half-day so that he could focus on his training.
“It’s amazing to see what’s possible when you really fight for it.”
Just one year after his stroke he started the season with the Algarve Bike Challenge in Portugal where he won the mixed category alongside Team Centurion Vaude’s Stefanie Dohrn.
Four months later, he finished 24th in the Malevil Cup in the Czech Republic and, shortly thereafter, 15th in the Furusjoen Rundt MTB Marathon in Norway. Both events form part of the UCI MTB Marathon Series.
A top-20 result meant he had qualified for the world championships in Italy that September and he went on to place 140th.
Last year, in July, he placed 45th at the European MTB Continental Championships in Norway.
“When I look back, I don’t know how I managed it, especially only getting onto the bike at the age of 26,” said Schermann, who sported a 1.9m, 95kg frame as a basketball player.
He had to learn the sport from scratch but, after just one season in the saddle, hung up his basketball shoes and devoted himself to cycling.
“I’m not sure though that I could’ve committed to being a pro without the stroke as it was an eye-opener for me to really focus on what I wanted. Now I’m keen to see what else is possible for me.”
With the 2020 Cape Epic cancelled due to the coronavirus, he has had to move that goal to next year.
“I aim to complete the race, arrive at the finish in one piece and have as much fun as possible.
“Elmar’s story is also very inspirational for a lot of people. So we want to make sure it will be a good race for us and it’s a massive goal to finish it together,” said Schermann, who is motivated to be the best athlete he can be.
“The more I see progression, the more motivated I am. I’m a big believer in hard work, which will ultimately bring you to your goals.
“A positive mindset also helps. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too old, slow or fat – I’ve heard it all.”