Brazil soccer player who survived plane crash looks ahead to Paralympics
The former goalkeeper of the ill-fated Chapecoense soccer squad, one of six survivors of a plane crash in Colombia as they were flying to their championship final, these days celebrates the "God-given miracle" that saved his life, while on the horizon he imagines himself playing in the Paralympic Games.
"I'll always be an athlete," Jakson Follmann told EFE in an interview. "I'll always be the Chapecoense goalkeeper. I'm looking ahead to the Paralympic Games at some later date."
At peace with his life, the soccer player, 24, was facing another day of rehab after the accident that cost the lives of most of his teammates as they were headed for Medellin for the championship final of the Copa Sudamericana against Atletico Nacional.
Follmann still suffers from an injury to the left foot and lost part of his right leg, for which he was fitted for an artificial limb that he has been using for the past three weeks.
His recovery "is going fast," he said. His head "is fine" and all his efforts are now focused on the rehab he does every two weeks at a Sao Paulo medical center that specializes in artificial limbs.
"I think positively, my body is responding well," said Follmann, who three days ago began walking without the aid of crutches.
Almost three months after the accident, the player thanks God every day for his life and prays that his "brothers" on the team may "rest in peace."
Follmann survived along with two others on the team, striker Alan Ruschel and defender Helio Neto, both now training with the new Chapecoense lineup.
"This is a God-given miracle. He took us in His arms. He has given us a second chance," he said.
Amid sighs, Follmann last January raised the Copa Sudamericana cup on the Chapecoense field, a posthumous trophy later added to the display case at the modest club in Santa Catarina, which for the first time in its history managed to reach an international final: "It was everyone's dream."
The darkness after the accident made it impossible to see his soccer buddies die - he thanks God for that - and what remains in his memory, he said, are "the group's happy moments" and the fight song they would sing before running onto the field.
"Sometimes that picture comes into my head, of everyone singing "Let's go, go, Chape," Follmann said with a shy smile.
The team's dream was cut short Nov. 28 as they neared Medellin airport and the passenger plane of Bolivia's Lamia airlines with 77 people aboard ran out of fuel and crashed in the mountains.
It was a tragedy. I'm not mad at anyone. I just thank God for my life," he said.
Follmann said he "never" thought of suing Chapecoense for its presumed responsibility in chartering the airliner, as some family members of the journalists who lost their lives in the crash have done.
"I don't judge, nor do I condemn," he said.
In his rehab sessions in Sao Paulo, the athlete is always accompanied by his girlfriend and his agent, who notes Follmann's optimism in moving on from the tragedy and beginning to think about his future.