With more than 20 years of experience in personal training and a life-long involvement in sports, Coach Stefan Lange is the Performance Coach, Personal Trainer and Disabled Representative at Thanyapura – Active Living. He has transformed the body and mind of several people and he recently gave us the opportunity to get to know him better through this interview.
Please tell us about your background
I am originally from Hamburg, Germany, a city that is surrounded with water. My father taught me a lot when it comes to sports, and from a very young age, I learned how to swim, sail, windsurf, and play football. My first sport was Judo, which I practiced from the age of 6 – 10, then I learned gymnastics, swimming, followed by boxing for more than eight years.
When I was 22, a friend of mine asked if I heard about a new sport that originated in the USA. He said they called it triathlon. He explained that it consisted of swimming, cycling, and running, and I was like, ‘What’s new? This is our daily routine.’ When the weather was good we would swim in the sea. Every morning, to go to school, we must ride the bicycle very fast when we were a little late and when we didn’t have a bicycle, we ran. He said a triathlon competition would be held nearby our hometown. We didn’t have any race bikes but we were filled with confidence. We attended the competition with trekking bikes and we were the first three in the race!
I also had an opportunity to meet with Jürgen Zäck. He’s a German triathlete and a hero for many Asians as he brought triathlon to Asia. He has a lot of Thai students who later run their own things in Thailand in different places.
Starting a career
I first studied lifeguard and medicine, and then moved to physiotherapy. I started working in a free park with swimming pools and sports facilities and at this time, I met a diving instructor who had his own company. I worked with him in the evening and learned diving. He sent me outside Europe for the first time to places like Maldives and Hawaii, where I ran my first half marathon back in 1989.
When I came back to Germany, I worked in one of the biggest sports centers in the world called Club Meridien. The main center is 63,000 square meters, all indoor. I started teaching gymnastics, aerobics and step aerobics. In 1990, the presenter of step aerobics was looking for a presenter in Germany and I became a top presenter for step aerobics there. One day, a man came to me and asked if I wanted to be his personal trainer. It was 1996. I was very excited that he asked me to do the job. This man shot sports programs on television. He also brought many friends from the television industry to train with me, such as Boris Becker, who was a top tennis player.
Later on, I built up my own gym and it went well so I wanted to build another one in Spain. However, when I came back from Spain, I had an accident.
A tragic accident – the beginning of a new chapter
It happened during my cycling training. I was on a race bike and a car coming on the side crashed into me. I wanted to stand up but I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel my legs and after spending a long time in the business, I knew what that meant.
At the hospital, I was told that my TH12 spine bone was broken and they thought I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life.
They brought me to a special hospital and in the first week, there were more than 500 people visiting me. I was struggling with my thoughts, but then I met with a man in a wheelchair, moving the wheelchair with his chin by pressing the control bar. I saw him and I realized that I can still use my fingers and arms. This opened a completely new chapter for me. I told myself that I would try to move a little bit every day and I called it diplomacy with millimeter.
My first goal was to sit on the bed and say hello to my physiotherapist when he came to my room. I couldn’t hold my upper body and when I tried to sit, I would fall. I needed four weeks and when that physiotherapist came in, I managed to sit on the bed, lift my arm and said hello to him. He responded ‘Wow Stefan! Really good!’ and I was so proud.
I started my own training. At that time, they had a special wheelchair for me. I had to lay down on my belly in the wheelchair then the sports therapist gave me a little bit of training.
During the sixth week, they opened my corset and said that I could sit in a normal wheelchair but I had to be very careful with my upper body. For five weeks, I mostly spend time on the bed. Once I could sit in my wheelchair, I was gone with it. I quickly got out of my room, and out of the hospital. They caught me outside at the park, near the hospital entrance. I watched the normal light, I saw the cars and people walking around. The nurse came after me. She was very panicked and said I needed a special paper to get out.
In my room, there were three other patients. I told them not to lay down the whole day and invited them to go out with me and do cardio training on the wheelchair. We went up to the helicopter parking on the top of the hospital then headed to the forest. We went down around the small lake, which was about 1.8 kilometers. Interestingly, after three weeks, their health results were so much better so the doctor allowed me to continue to train them.
After nearly three months at the hospital, they offered me a job to work in sports therapy. I worked at the hospital for 8 years as a Sports Therapist, and they offered to pay for my education, in order to increase my knowledge on this subject. I worked there from 2000 – 2008. On the side, I also opened a gym for people with disabilities. We had more than 400 gyms in Hamburg, but mine was the only one available for people with disabilities. The facilities and training were designed for disabled people.
In 2008, I left the job at the hospital and went to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands in Spain. Lanzarote is a really nice place for sports. Ironman in Lanzarote is one of the hardest. It can be fresh in the morning when you jump into the north Atlantic at 17 degrees Celsius, then at noon, the weather can be 32 degrees Celsius. I lived there until 2013 and during that time, I created my own race called Vuelta Playa Blanca, which is specialized for wheelchair users. I also created a training center for wheelchair users in Playa Blanca.
In the first year there were 30-40 people attending while the third year, more than 150 wheelchair users joined the training and the race. It’s been 10 years and the race is still popular while I organize it from here [Phuket].
I couldn’t do it alone and my Spanish was not good enough. When you do things like this you need a friend. My best friend, Jose Vasquez, is the director of H10 Hotels, which is a hotel chain. I told him my idea and he was one of the first to offer special prices of 4-star hotel rooms for wheelchair users. Without him, I would never be able to organize this.
From Playa Blanca to Phuket
In 2013, I received a call from my friend, who worked at a 5-star hotel in Phuket. He sent me a health result from a doctor and asked if I could help him. The result was bad and he could have died within three months if he didn’t do anything.
It was in November when I received that call and I canceled everything to come to see him. He went to pick me up at the airport. I walked past him as I didn’t recognize him at all. He was about my size before, but at the airport, he was 118 kilograms. In the car, he explained how much stress he has been through and that his job gave him a lot of pressure.
On the way to his house, I saw a sign ‘Thanyapura Sports’. The next day, he showed me the gym in Bangtao where he expected to train but when I looked around, I told him it’s impossible for him to train there with loud music while he’s under a lot of stress. Then I remember the sign Thanyapura Sports so I asked him about it. Initially, he said it would be too expensive but I insisted we should give it a try.
We checked it out, got offered a good price and we agreed to train here. That was my first contact with Thanyapura. He got better eventually and the doctor told me that his health was fine and he could take care of himself so I went back to Europe. The second time I came back to see my friend, Phillip [Thanyapura President and CEO] reached out to me and asked if I was interested to work at Thanyapura. I still remember the moment we talked. I said yes, it’s a very good opportunity and this is the reason why I’m here now.
Your core is the key
The core is always essential. It’s in between your upper and lower body so if the core doesn’t work, the upper and lower body cannot function together well. Any kind of sports and activities that you need to connect your legs and arms, you have to be stable over the middle. It’s an important part to build strength in your body.
When you train the core, it’s not only about sit-ups. There’re a lot of different options. In my class, you can see how many different offers you get to work with the core.
People who train here impress me by showing up on their training routine, not only in my class but in any training classes, which show continuity and respect. We have people from elite athletes to normal people and it’s amazing to see how they transform through our training. Now they feel good, confident, stronger, and better.
Also, here is the perfect place to train. You can do the same in Germany but what makes this place so special for the training is 12 hours between day and night. It is almost the same amount of time. In Germany, in winter, the night is so long and it decreases the motivation to train. Here, the temperature is averagely 29 degrees throughout 365 days of the year, which is good for the body and Thanyapura is the perfect place to improve your whole lifestyle, from physical training to nutrition and mind training. I’ve never seen any other places that offers so many options for vegan food. There are also doctors who can guide you about your health results, a nutritionist and therapist to support you along the way to a healthier lifestyle.
You can find more information about Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort on their website at www.thanyapura.com.