Michael Teuber is a true entrepreneur: The athlete, who lives in the town Odelzhausen near Munich, is unstoppable privately and professionally. His wife Susanne has long since given up whenever Teuber speeds with his bike through the Munich hinterlands, or gets it in his head to climb Kilimanjaro.
Michael Teuber has been paraplegic since he was 20 years old; a friend got into a car crash on their way to a surfing vacation. Since then, Teuber can no longer control his legs below the knees.
His strength for his insane performances in the sport comes from his thighs – and his head. Michael Teuber impresses with his motivation and his fighting spirit.
He’s proved that he can attack hard beyond just time trials, with his book “Aus eigener Kraft (By My Own Effort)”: Teuber names the grievances in German parasports, and calls for more support from politicians. The 20,000 euro win bonus for a Paralympic gold medal would also do his wallet good.
Teuber spoke with ISPO.com before the 2016 Paralympics in Rio on the financial challenges in Paralympic sports.
ISPO.com: Mr. Teuber, you recently calculated that you needed an average of 9,000 euros in subsidies to get by last year. How do you manage to pursue your sport under professional conditions with so little support?
Michael Teuber: Naturally I couldn’t support my family with the money from Sporthilfe alone, that much is obvious. With the monthly 150 euros as a Paralympic first team athlete and 400 euros from the top team funding, it just doesn’t work. And that is the point of the matter: the fact that grown adults have to be shown some kind of long-term perspective. That isn’t a given at this time.
Other German Paralympics drivers even live off Hartz IV social assistance...
Yes, that’s a sad story. With that little money, even medal winners like Birgit Kober can only live hand to mouth. It’s insanely difficult to earn a living as a para-athlete. Politicians and the public like to say, “But you do the sport for yourselves, and because you want the success.” But when the balance of medals doesn’t add up, everyone just gripes. We bring home the medals for Germany at the Paralympics, too – but you’re not acknowledged for it here.
But you nevertheless manage to earn enough money.
Luckily, I’ve been able to gain some sponsors. And because my father had gotten insurance before my accident in 1987, it wasn’t that difficult for me in the beginning. My house is bought and paid for.
Who supports you financially?
My most important component is the regional sports funding from the bank Sparkasse Dachau, which has already accompanied me for several years. For that, I am very thankful. So they have as little work with me as possible, I take on the PR work on my own account, and supply the texts on my competitions for the website. And I appear a reliable representative. I act as a national paracycling coach for the Behindertensportverband Bayern (Parasports Association of Bavaria) – a 12-hour part-time job. And then, I still hold lectures.
Sounds like a lot of work.
Yeah, well, it would hardly work otherwise. Everyone has to putter around, everyone has to generate an added value in their lives. I’m a professional athlete; if I want to do that, I have to market myself. As someone with a business administration degree, I do also have an economic background. And one thing I also quickly realized…
You have to know your worth. If it’s free, it can’t be any good – the proverb isn’t that far off at all. If a company wants me to hold a talk in front of managers or employees, then it also has to pay for it. Then I say, “If you don’t pay 2,000 to 2,500 euros, I’m not coming.” I don’t see why so many companies and organizations rake in money with the sport and I, as an athlete, shouldn’t have any of it.
There are always new company names under the Sponsors column on your website.
Those are primarily outfitters, from whom I don’t earn any money but rather get benefits in kind. Paracycling isn’t necessarily a particularly cheap sport (Editor’s note: Teuber’s racing cycle is worth more than 10,000 euros). I get my bike from Scott, Paul Lange provides me with Shimano components and a small cost subsidy, I get wheels from Schwalbe, Adidas give me apparel and sports goggles, Uvex sponsors the helmet, and I get my sports orthoses for my lower legs once a year from Ortema. If I had to buy these, it would cost me around 10,000 euros. And finally there’s also PowerBar and LaVit, who primarily supply me with energy bars and juices.
You’re 48 years old, and Rio 2016 will be your fifth Paralympic Games – how much longer will you continue?
The question hasn’t actually come up for me. Age doesn’t protect against speed, as we say in cycling. (laughs) The Swiss Heinz Frei is still around at age 58. Nevertheless, I’m not striving for a 9-to-5 job in some office after my athletic career.
The Upper Bavarian will appear in starting class C1 in four competitions: