How did an accident change your life?

Just one wrong move

She was one of the young hopes in artistic gymnastics and was about to qualify for the Olympic Games. Then Elisa Chirino fell while exercising and suffered a double fracture of the vertebra below the third cervical vertebra. That was on March 25, 2014. Since then she has been paralyzed and has to rely on outside help around the clock. For almost a year, Elisa, who is now turning 19, let the camera accompany her - on her way to her new life in a wheelchair.

Elisa has endured a lot since the fall: pain, several complicated operations, many months in hospital - and the realization that she will probably never be able to live without help again. The documentary traces her fate and accompanies her on her way: the months in the hospital, her visit to the sports hall in which the accident happened. She wanted to go there herself, accompanied by a therapist, to process what had happened. Because Elisa always has doubts as to whether she will cope with her new path in life.

Elisa has recently had a wheelchair-accessible apartment in Berlin-Lichtenberg, her home town, and she can even go back to her old school. Defiant as she is, she continues to take the advanced sports course in high school and is determined to do her Abitur. Because she doesn't want to give up, she still has a glimmer of hope that at some point she will be able to control her body at least partially again. At the moment, however, it doesn't look like it, the doctors told her that too. Above all, the family is her great support: her mother Heike Chirino and her two older sisters Sandra and Anita.

A long-term observation of a human fate, but also of fighting spirit, will to live - and Elisha's insight into the meaning of life: "That you should simply enjoy life and be more grateful for every little thing than before, what seemed so natural to you, but what it really isn't. "

  • To make a film you need people, but not victims. With Elisa it was initially the most difficult to overcome my own self-consciousness. I had never met a young woman who had met a similarly difficult fate. At first it was a task for me not only to see Elisa as the obvious victim of a bad accident, but to recognize the person, a teenager with his own ideas, a special sense of humor, feelings and dreams. And I definitely didn't want to make Elisa Chirino a victim in this film.

    I came across Elisha's story at a flea market in spring 2014. I was traveling with my wife and two children. A number of athletes sold games and books there, all from donations. The proceeds should go to Elisa. We bought two games, a few bits and pieces.

    But we immediately had the impression that we couldn't do enough for this sportswoman who now needed all the help she could get. Elisa, a movement artist, an Olympic candidate, can no longer move. Maybe it will stay that way for life. A double fracture of the cervical spine with severe damage to the spinal cord. I took a flyer with me and found out about Elisha's injuries.

    I had to think of this girl a lot in the days that followed. Wouldn't working on a movie help her? Not just to get as much attention as possible for their fate. That is also important, very clearly. But it was also about the task, about the work, her collaboration on a film in which she herself was supposed to be the protagonist and was able to think about how we should shape her story.

  • After a few days I turned to the German Gymnastics Federation in Berlin, where I got to know Richard Eberl-Koschny from the performance gymnastics association. He made contact with the Chirino family. And at the end of June 2014 we were all sitting together in a large room at the Berlin Marzahn Accident Clinic, and I saw Elisa in person for the first time.

    I had the impression that nobody felt comfortable in their own skin. Everyone could see the efforts of the past few months. Most of all Elisa, of course. She has been artificially fed for months. She found it difficult to swallow. Speaking too. When she talked, saliva collected in her mouth, which had to be sucked out over and over again. As she sat there, in a wheelchair, so vulnerable, so weak, I felt my tears come down. Wasn't what I suggested way too much for this girl? Wasn't that extra effort for a film just more agony for Elisa?

    After a few meetings, the family decided to venture out to make a movie. The accident hospital also agreed. We did a couple of test shots. Of course, we all hoped that Elisa would make more progress while we were filming. Somehow it happened, albeit differently than we might initially expected.

  • Everyone wanted Elisa to be able to use her old body functions again to a much greater extent. But that didn't happen. During the year and a half of working on the film, we had to realize how difficult it is for a quadriplegic, because that was Elisa now, to hold and defend what was left to her. And the fact that Elisa managed to preserve, indeed expand, these minimal functions is an achievement that goes beyond anything we can imagine.

    It deserves even more recognition when you see how Elisa has gradually released herself from the abyss of despair, the trauma of injury. There have always been - and still are - dark phases. What it looks like in Elisa, perhaps only a fellow sufferer can assess. So it was a special situation that Samuel Koch also got in touch with Elisa. The two have seen each other more often. And their contact remains.

    There was no room in the program for many of the situations we filmed: for example, the encounter with Samuel Koch, the "Sportsman of the Year" ball, the trip to Nottwil. Not because these situations weren't good, but because Elisa gave us so much else. For example, it was her idea to "line up" at the place where her accident happened, in the training hall of the competitive athletes. Her two sisters, Sandra and Anita, and Rico, Sandra's boyfriend at the time, helped her. A highlight for our film. And it was only Elisha's idea to not only climb the lame Ferris wheel on the fairground, but the Freefall Tower. It wasn't specially staged for the camera. It was just Elisha's idea. She would have done it without a camera.

  • I am very happy to have worked with Elisa. Elisa still loves movement, speed and adrenaline. Much has not changed that much, others totally. A lot of things your body doesn't allow anymore. Despite all the difficulties, she would like to live as normally as possible and be treated that way. She'll definitely go to clubs too, and maybe she'll dance even if she doesn't yet know how to use her wheelchair.

    Our shooting showed me what a special person Elisa is and what a fighter she is. I have the greatest respect for her. She doesn't like being a victim. At the beginning she said to me: "I don't really want to be shown as a disabled person!" We tried to fathom sides of her being: Elisa is very disciplined. She is impatient with some things. She is very calm. She has a special sense of humor. But above all she is a fighter. And at the beginning of the film it wasn't clear if Elisa would fight at all. But she showed us!

    A film by Frank Eggers
    Camera: Jakob Seemann, Tracey Gudwin
    Cut: Hagen Hinkelmann
    Production: Marlies Schwab, Christian Stachel
    Editorial staff: Michael Petsch
    Online editing: Uschi Hansen