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    • Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    One Foot Firmly on the Ground: Andrea Fürstaller's Resilient Love for Nature

    Three years ago, Andrea Fürstaller lost her leg in an accident. Today, she is back in Austria's mountains. How she succeeded in dealing with this severe blow and reclaimed her life using resilience – and how Austria's mountains and nature helped her do it...

    The Accident

    It's an unremarkable autumn day in 2018 when Andrea Fürstaller and her boyfriend get into a motor cart at her parents' mountain farmstead, something they've done many times before. As they drive down a steep slope, the rear of the cart veers out of control, and the cart flips over again and again. "I remember the noise and my boyfriend's screams. I tried to spread myself into the cabin using my arms and legs," Andrea says. "Then it suddenly got dark." They plunge downhill for 70 metres.

    Days later, Andrea is woken from her coma. The doctors have already operated on her leg five times, after it was crushed by the motor cart's cabin. There's nothing else they can do, except amputate. "My world fell apart," Andrea says. "The strange thing is: I've always enjoyed having two healthy legs that would take me wherever I wanted to go. And then suddenly, all of that is over."

    Since childhood, she had helped out on her parents' farm. Working with animals was an important part of her life; in the summer, she had worked on an Alpine pasture, taking care of cows. All of that was suddenly no longer possible: "The accident changed my life completely."

    How Can We Overcome Unexpected Misfortune?

    People like Andrea, who suddenly find themselves hit by fate, are in an exceptional situation as far as their mental health is concerned. What happens next depends heavily on the specific situation and individual. "A stroke of fate produces all kinds of thoughts and emotions, and people react very differently," says Jana Goldmann, a Vienna psychologist who often works with clients finding themselves in difficult circumstances. "It depends on the context the individual is embedded in, what the event means to them, what fears they have. There is no standard remedy for fateful events." Andrea says: "The amputation felt like the end of the world to me." But: "You also have to get a grip and face life again."

    Nature and animals were a big help to Andrea: "In my sadness after the amputation, one of my favourite cows was lying there chewing, and I sat down next to her and just started to cry. And the cow put her head on my shoulder. That was so genuine and so incredibly comforting to experience that from an animal."

    Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    Resilience as a Success Strategy?

    One strategy to deal with difficult situations in life is called resilience. Originally a scientific term in physics, it describes the property of materials like rubber to bounce back to their original state after being exposed to external forces. The psychological equivalent, according to Jana Goldmann, is "finding oneself again instead of drifting away. Being able to use one's own strengths and resources to get back to a good, fulfilling life." One important aspect is acceptance: "When something horrible happens, don't think: 'Oh my God, it's always me those terrible things happen to!' Instead, acknowledge that something terrible has happened, but ask yourself: How can I proceed? What can I do to feel better?" says Jana Goldmann.

    Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    “To a certain degree, resilience depends on our temperament, our personal characteristics. But in large part, we can teach ourselves.”

    Mag. Jana Goldmann / Vienna
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    Jana Goldmann

    Goals Help You Heal

    The time after the accident was very difficult for Andrea. "In the beginning, I cried a lot. Crying often helps, and you need to give yourself permission to do it," she says. She fully realised that her world had changed irreversibly three months after the accident, when she was fitted with her prosthesis for the first time: "Suddenly there’s this foreign lump on your leg that holds you back, and you’re not free anymore."

    But every now and then, there were glimmers of hope. For example when her boyfriend – recovered from his own injuries – witnessed Andrea’s first steps using her prosthetic leg: "In the midst of this unending sadness about the situation, he was so happy about me learning to walk again."

    Her main driver during this time was having meaningful goals. Her godchild was due to be baptised after Andrea’s stay in the rehabilitation clinic. "I knew I wanted to work towards being able to hold my godchild during the baptism – without being afraid of falling."

    Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    “Behind the clouds, no matter how dark they are, the sun is still shining. You just have to wait a little bit now and then.”

    Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    Andrea Fürstaller

    "Now More Than Ever!"

    Working towards goals and realising it's in your power to reach them – unknowingly, Andrea put into practice a concept psychologists like Jana Goldmann call "self-efficacy". "Instead of thinking, 'I am being controlled', think: 'I can take my life into my own hands; I can do something to make certain things better.'"

    Andrea would most likely call her resilience "stubbornness" instead: "I found myself thinking: Now more than ever. I will still do everything I did before, if not better. I started dancing again, climbing, running, riding. This stubbornness has really helped me – even if it's not always easy for my family to put up with", she laughs.

    Climbing with a handicap, Andrea Fürstaller in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    “This place up here is paradise. Living here is a huge privilege. Especially working on the farm is deeply meaningful to me.”

    Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    Andrea Fürstaller

    Being Active in Nature…

    Her enthusiasm for Austria's nature is as strong as ever: "Watching animals and reflecting on life are great activities we often neglect because of lack of time." For Andrea, being active in nature again is both a motivating goal and a tool to deal with the situation: "What I love about being active is the feeling of freedom it triggers in me. Just being able to move again is so much more freedom than I had in the time after the amputation. I am incredibly proud that my body can do that again. And that my body is carrying my soul again."

    Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    “When I've made it to the summit, I do feel tired physically, but mentally I feel free. It's a wonderful thing.”

    Andrea Fürstaller climbing in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    Andrea Fürstaller

    From a scientific viewpoint, being active can be a helpful part of a resilient lifestyle: "The physical and the mental are deeply linked. On the one hand, physical activity causes so-called 'happiness hormones' like serotonin to release. But there is another important factor: If I overcome my own inner resistance and go exercise, I am acting with self-efficacy", says Jana Goldmann.

    ...And a Pinch of Black Humour

    Of course, some situations she encounters still make Andrea feel the sadness. When she remembers the time before her accident during a hike, it's bittersweet. She enjoys walking, but obstacles are now more difficult to overcome, and she reaches her limits more quickly. A pinch of black humour is helpful: "You've got to be able to laugh at yourself. Like when I’m mucking out the horse and my prosthesis gives way, causing me to fall into the muck," she grins. Or when Andrea decided to dress up as a pirate for carnival one and a half years after her amputation. Her boyfriend fashioned her a real-life detachable wooden leg – with a bottle of rum hidden within a cavity. Captain Jack Sparrow would be delighted.

    A rum bottle in a peg leg
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    “I often cannot wait to get up in the morning. I am so excited about the day, to see what happens and what I will experience.”

    Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    Andrea Fürstaller

    What Is Resilience?

    Resilience is the mental strength to deal with difficult situations. Coined by US psychologists in the 1950s, it describes a certain way of viewing the world, a mindset. Whilst some consider it an innate characteristic, many researchers see it as a learnable practise. In other words: we can practise facing situations in a resilient way.

    There are a variety of different models that describe resilience and its aspects in detail. One of them is based on the following 7 pillars:

    Acceptance | Relationships | Solution-Oriented Approach | Healthy Optimism | Self-Awareness | Self-Efficacy

    Learn more
    Nationalpark Hohe Tauern - East Tyrol
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    Nationalpark Hohe Tauern

    Facts

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    • Area
      1,856 km² (717 mi²)
    • Regions
      Carinthia, Tirol, Salzburger Land
    • Mountains
      226 peaks over 3,000 m (3.280 yd)
    • Altitude
      between 1,000 and 3,798 m (1,093 - 4,153 yd) above sea level
    • Highest mountain
      Großglockner (3,798 m = 4,153 yd)
    • Hiking paths
      approx. 4,300 km (2,672 mi)

    Andrea's Stomping Ground: The Hohe Tauern National Park

    Featuring 1,800 km² of untouched nature, Hohe Tauern National Park is Austria's largest national park. Located across the provinces of Carinthia, Tirol, and SalzburgerLand, it is a habitat for approx. 15,000 animal species and around 3,500 plant species. It is also home to the Großglockner, Austria's tallest mountain. And the Großglockner is not the only tall mountain in the area: 225 peaks with altitudes of over 3,000 m are located within Hohe Tauern National Park, making up one of the world's most fascinating high Alpine landscapes. You will find cosy huts and snack stations along the extensive hiking trail network - and you might just discover your new favourite nature spot, whether on a glacial ice field, in a deep gorge, by a specticular waterfall, or on a lush Alpine meadow.

    Hohe Tauern National Park website

    Learn more about Austria's national parks

    3 Tours in Austria's SalzburgerLand

    A ranger tour can give you interesting insights into the national park's flora and fauna.

    •                     Wiegenwald in Uttendorf-Weißsee in the Hohe Tauern National Park holiday region
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      Wiegenwald Stone Pine Forest

      Starting at valley station of the Weißsee Gletscher cable car, walk through the Wiegenwald stone pine forest up to Schwarze Lacke lake. Duration ~ 4 h (2-3 h of walking).
      Dates & bookings
    •                     Bearded vulture near Kals am Grossglockner (Hohe Tauern National Park)
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      Kings of the Skies in Krumltal Valley

      As you walk along the Krumlbach stream, you might be lucky enough to spot golden eagles, griffons, or bearded vultures. Duration ~ 3.5 h (2.5 h of walking).
      Dates & bookings
    •                     Habachtal valley in the Hohe Tauern National Park holiday region
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      Discovering the Emerald Valley

      Habachtal valley is home to Central Europe's only emerald deposit. Duration ~ 4 h (2.5 h of walking).
      Dates & bookings

    The World According to Andrea

    • Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    • Andrea Fürstaller - landscape at National Park Hohe Tauern
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    • Andrea Fürstaller, Climbing, National Park Hohe Tauern
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    • Andrea Fürstaller, ranger in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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    • Andrea Fürstaller, climbing in the National Park Hohe Tauern
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