“I just wanted to carry on the same as before”, says Hans-Peter Benzinger, independent member of the works council and representative for colleagues with severe disabilities at MANN+HUMMEL. Following a car accident in July 1986, the now-53-year-old lost his left arm and clavicle, but this did not stop him from continuing to lead as full a life as possible afterwards. His greatest wish was to live independently and open his own bakery in Finland. Mr Benzinger worked hard to achieve this goal, but one particular challenge – gaining the master’s certificate – left him with a difficult decision to make. Since he was now wearing a prosthesis, he was no longer permitted to work in a bakery due to hygiene reasons. This meant he could not complete the master’s certificate and his dream of owning his own bakery was in tatters. It was at this moment that one thing became clear to him: he no longer wanted to wear his prosthesis. After all, it wasn’t providing him with the equal opportunities he had hoped it would.
You have to stay strong
“Nonetheless, I didn’t want to let it get me down, so I took the initiative myself”. Since he was facing a wait of two years for a retraining position, he applied independently to various companies, including MANN+HUMMEL, where he began working as a porter on September 1987. “The wonderful thing about this new job was the recognition I got. I was allowed to do everything myself. This is the greatest feeling you can give someone with a disability.”, he says.
Mr Benzinger also wanted to carry on playing his favourite sport, billiards, he has been fascinated by the game since he was 13. He didn’t see his accident as a reason for his sporting career to end and so he set about learning to shoot straight with one arm. It only took him a few weeks to perfect this technique. Today, he is a multiple state champion in various German states and number two in the whole of Germany among disabled players. He even made it to the top five standby players for the German national championships for able-bodied players.
Living life to the full despite limitations
Mr Benzinger has been serving on the boards of various billiards associations for many years. On January 1 2009, he founded BC Ludwigsburg, a German billiards club whose first team currently plays in the second division of the Bundesliga (German national league). For the past two years, he has even served on the Baden-Wuerttemberg billiards federation as vice president for grass-roots sport and representative for disabled sport. The well-being and appreciation of those with physical disabilities are issues that lie close to his heart. For this reason, national championships for the disabled are held every year, with players from across Germany coming together to play against, but also with, one another. The last championships were held in February 2016 in Ludwigsburg, with MANN+HUMMEL making its own contribution to the event as sponsor.
“These kinds of events, of course, also lead to friendships developing”, remarks Mr Benzinger, “this gave us the idea of setting up a six-man team composed solely of disabled players, to compete against able-bodied teams.”
September 18 2016 signalled the start of this Europe-wide, unique experiment and the results thus far are very impressive: to date, the team is top of the table and has yet to lose a league match, with five victories and one draw. These results have earned the disabled players both recognition and respect, and have surprised many of their fellow players. This is precisely what Mr Benzinger had hoped to achieve. “I would like to show all those with physical disabilities that they are just as important to society as everyone else, despite their disability. They can still keep up with able-bodied people and should never lose faith in themselves,” stresses Benzinger.
A shared future
His personal goal for the future is to be able to play at international level. “Until now, only wheelchair users have been able to do this. Strictly speaking, this is a form of discrimination amongst the physically handicapped”, points out Benzinger, “this situation requires urgent change.” He would also like to set up a billiards table in a public place where both able-bodied and disabled players can play together. “By doing this I hope to bring both groups closer together and to show those with physical limitations that they don’t have to hide away”, says Benzinger with an optimistic smile.