By Clara Cattarossi
Omer Zur, owner and creator of Paratrek, returns the faith to those who have lost it and makes skeptics believe again. Paratrek is a company that allows people with disabilities to do trekking with their own device, the trekker. We had the opportunity to chat with Omer, who told us from the creation of the company to its philosophy.
How did you start with Paratrek?
Omer: It actually started with a personal story. In 2005 I traveled around the world for three years; I decided I wanted to explore everything that I could. That was because my parents (especially my father) told me when I was a kid: “you should always try and step out of your comfort zone”. When you get to a new city or a natural place, you’re challenging yourself and this is how you become a better version of yourself. In those three years I realised that my father never hiked with me because in 1973 he got severely injured: he fell and broke three vertebrae in his neck, so he’s paralised from his chest down and sits in a wheelchair. In 2008 I told him: “what I’m offering here is to close the gap. Let’s go and hike, do a long trek for a whole month in Turkey with some friends and we’re going to do it just like I am right now”. Then my father said, “alright! Let’s do it”. So that same year we created our own altering wheelchair, the trekker.
Did the trip happen? Did you learn any valuable lessons?
Omer: Yes! We went, as I told you, hiking in Turkey and I learned three amazing things: first, we got to manufacture a really good device that can go through almost any terrain. The second thing was that I saw my father, for the first time in thirty five years since his injury, manage himself without any help whatsoever. He used to think that if you ask someone for help, it shows that you’re disabled and weak. During this journey, he realised that it’s the opposite: when you accept yourself and your weaknesses you can also embrace all of your abilities and what you’re strong at. This appreciation for him was a huge step in accepting himself. The third and last thing was that with all of my friends we came in a state of mind of volunteering. It’s not just about doing good, it’s about being together and equal. All of these things made me notice that this is what I want to do with my life.
What challenges did you have to overcome with the creation of this company?
Omer: Almost everything we did was a challenge. It starts with the fact that people don’t believe. If you’re disabled, the maximum you can do is go to the next cafe house, which is accessible. So, what else do you need other than that? Why would you challenge yourself? Especially after this pandemic year, I got to see how important it is to be connected with nature. So what was that first challenge: making people believe, both disabled or not, that it is necessary to stay connected with nature, and that it’s worth the dare.
What is it about nature that you’re so attracted to?
Omer: That’s an amazing question. Like I said, you can control almost nothing and that takes you out of your comfort zone. The one thing you can always control is the way you react to these unexpected factors, and that takes out the best version of yourself. Secondly, when people go outdoors and see a lake, a waterfall, trees, animals, etc. something opens in them. They leave all the stress behind, the urban, the shouting and the smoke. This way, people will give and receive help.
So, in a way, nature makes people more humble…
Omer: That may be the best definition. You see those rocks and huge trees and you understand how small you are.
How did Paratrek change your perspective about the world?
Omer: What caused me to change my perspective was that almost everybody, when you give them the possibility to let go of holding the control in their lives, will be in a defensive position. But when you set the thing up they learn that they can grow from every situation, and it applies from children to CEO’s. Although the trekker is an amazing tool, it’s more than that: it allows a child with disabilities to come with their friends and, more importantly, to see the interaction between the group where there are no hierarquias and we are all equal.
What are your expectations on this project?
Omer: Our vision is that people in our organization over the world will be able to choose for themselves. What I want to make sure is that Paratrek is not about me nor the people that work with me, but about the people we are offering this activity for. I wish to see trekkers in every national park, sports leisure organizations or tour providers.
After our conversation with Omer, he widened our eyes: not only he allows disabled people to do apparently challenging activities: he also gives them the feeling of equality, inclusion and a strong bond with nature. Omer and his people help overcome the vertigo, and let me make it clear that that’s not the fear of falling. The vertigo means that the depth that opens up in front of us is attractive to us, it’s seductive. The big landscapes that nature offers generate tension in us; it’s immeasurable and infinite. It surpasses our categories of understanding and results violent to our imagination.