"No limitations": Juergen Schrapp’s Journey to the Tokyo Paralympics
More than thirty Bayer athletes are competing in the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. One of those athletes, sitting volleyball attacker Juergen Schrapp, is a model of perseverance and inclusion for Team Bayer on and off the court
In September 2012, Juergen Schrapp and the German National sitting volleyball team were staring at the end of their Paralympic experience. They trailed the Chinese by two sets in the quarterfinals. Losing another set would have sent Schrapp back to his family and his day job in Leverkusen, Germany without a medal after four Paralympic Games.
But Schrapp, who has had muscular dystrophy in both legs since birth, doesn’t like to dwell on things that seem out of reach. That’s what he likes about Sitting Volleyball. “It’s a sport with no limitations,” he says. Sitting volleyball is played like volleyball, but players attack on net that’s 1.15 meters high and must always keep some part of their bodies—between the buttocks and the shoulders—in contact with the floor. Outside hitters like Schrapp—who claims a wingspan of 1.92 meters–rotate the entirety of the court over the course of a match. They must be able to deftly slide, stretch and roll to cover the backcourt and exhibit both poise and power when maneuvering a wall of outstretched palms at the net.
With Schrapp as their captain, the Germans won three consecutive sets against the Chinese to keep their medal hopes alive. “That was a perfect situation to display trust in the capabilities of the others,” he remembers. If you keep trusting and helping each other, there’s always a way to come back.”
That determined spirit would serve his country well throughout the tournament. Trailing Russia 1-0 and 2-1 in the bronze medal match, Germany overcame four set points and even a match point to secure Schrapp’s first-ever medal and Germany’s first in the discipline since 1992
Advancing inclusion on the court and on the job
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Fabian Brune, who works in Product Supply for the Pharmaceuticals division, will be competing in Paraswimming events.
Competing at an international level is a side hustle for Schrapp. He is responsible for Procurement in Research and Development (R&D) Procurement at Bayer, a company that spends roughly five billion euros on R&D each year. Schrapp came to the company by way of its sports club, Bayer 04, which has established itself as Germany’s preeminent sitting volleyball squad.
“I wanted to compete at a high level and coming to Bayer allowed me to combine my education with my passion for the sport,” he said. “Bayer is the best place to be if you play sports with a disability in Germany. The support of the company has been fantastic throughout the years.”
He has even introduced some of his work colleagues to his sport. “I’m pretty sure they were sore the next day,” he recalls, laughing. Schrapp has taken his passion for “the opportunity of inclusion” to his day job. He played an instrumental role in organizing Bayer’s membership in “The Valuable 500,” a collection of companies committed to advocating for people with disabilities in the business world. He is also an active member of ENABLE, the Bayer’s resource group dedicated to advancing the interests of people with disabilities within the company.
Competing for Another Medal: Tokyo 2020
Roughly nine years after taking bronze in London, Juergen and his teammates will be vying for another medal late this month. He is one of fifteen Bayer athletes competing in Tokyo’s Paralympic Games. Schrapp’s Sitting Volleyball team kicks off group play with a clash against Iran, a perennial powerhouse in the discipline. But that hasn’t deterred his optimism.
“We have a clear ambition to reach the semi-finals and give ourselves the chance to compete for a medal,” he says with a quiet but hopeful confidence, the sense of confidence one develops after more than 25 years with a national team, a tenure that has spanned five, soon-to-be six, Paralympics, nearly 300 matches and one bronze medal. If that experience has made one thing clear, it’s best to think about Schrapp not in terms of his limitations, but how far he can reach.