Filip Pšenčík: "To start giving back what others have given me."

In recent years, the Olga Havel Prize has also begun to promote the generation of so-called millennials. After the thirty-year-olds Tereza Nagyová, Martina Půtová and Dita Horochovská, this year's laureate is the thirty-one-year-old Filip Pšenčík. Like his predecessor, Filip refutes unflattering clichés that portray this generation as self-centred, lazy, unable to grow up and accept responsibility.

Studying architecture, meaningful work that benefits others, great sporting achievements, travelling, starting a family and caring for a young child - Filip Pšenčík has managed and is managing all of this successfully. One might say "left back", but that is what bothers Filip the most.

You were born with spina bifida. Were you diagnosed prenatally?

No, my parents didn't find out until after I was born. I was lucky, as I have been all my life, that the birth was by caesarean section because my mother carried me for 14 days. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have survived the birth because my spinal cord would have ruptured.

How does spina bifida affect you? What kind of problems are you having?

I was really lucky, because this disability usually manifests itself much worse. I combine walking on French crutches and a wheelchair, which I use for longer distances and to free my hands, for example when looking after my daughter and cooking. The biggest difficulty I have is with my left leg, which is atrophied, I can't stand on it and I have poor sensation and circulation in it. Associated defects include high shoulder blades, so I cannot lift my arms fully up, scoliosis and lordosis of the spine.

Can the problems associated with spina bifida be addressed or alleviated? Can surgery help?

I have had 10 surgeries and about 250 stitches on various parts of my body. Immediately after I was born, the wound from a spinal cord protrusion from my back was covered with a graft of my own skin. At about age 6, I started attacking my left leg more. Despite doctors downplaying the difficulties, saying I was obese and didn't want to walk, my parents got a CT scan and an MRI. Subsequently, it was discovered that the underdeveloped spine wanted to collapse and a spinal spine spike began to grow from my vertebrae, impaling my spinal cord. I underwent two 12-hour spinal surgeries. After the first surgery I left the hospital with crutches, probably because of some nerve damage. The second surgery was denied by the original hospital due to my financial limit being exceeded and my parents had to arrange it at another hospital. It was discovered during this surgery that the previous surgery had left several purulent deposits around my spine. The next surgeries were corrections to my left leg. In several surgeries I had my femur cut so I could stretch my leg, I also had my fibula cut to rotate my fetlock, my instep broken so I could walk on my foot instead of my toes, and an Achilles tendon incision to improve my footing. Adding to my disability is poorer bladder function, so I've had to have surgery twice more for bladder stones.

I guess you have to add to that the endless rehab...

My parents have been rehabilitating me since I was a child, initially we commuted to the Vojt Centre, where they taught me this method of exercise. I vaguely remember that I didn't like Vojt's method very much, and sometimes in my anger I would strike some blows to my parents, especially my father, who was strong enough to get me into the right positions. Another memory is of the nice rehabilitation nurses. Physiotherapy has been with me all my life until now and I don't think I could function without them. Every week there is something that needs to be stretched and warmed up. I also try to keep fit through sport.

If we try to forget about the surgeries and unpleasant exercises, what was your childhood like? What did your parents encourage you to do?

They tried to tailor my activities so that I could experience what a healthy child does. For example, I was able to ride my bike on longer routes that I couldn't have done on crutches, so I went up Praděd with help and many other things. I think the most important thing they passed on to me is that every obstacle can be overcome. Not to solve the reasons why something is not possible, but to look for ways to manage everything I can think of.

Did you go to a regular school?

I went to primary school in Dačice for the first five grades before I moved on to an eight-year high school. I was home-schooled for almost two years because I couldn't sit in school after my spinal surgery. My teacher came to see me once a week and the other days I studied with my grandmother, who is a teacher, or with my parents.

What did you enjoy most as a child?

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and great-grandparents at the family cottage where we have a pool, and I think that's where my love of water was born. We also often went to the sea in Croatia, where I started snorkelling. I also liked and rode my bike a lot, which replaced running. But I didn't do any sport competitively. I also liked to draw, read and of course, like every teenager, play computer games.

When and how did you decide to study architecture?

In high school I was deciding between law, programming and architecture. The final decision came in the sexta, where I had a great art professor, J. Albrecht. He, together with my teacher Zamazalová, whom I took drawing classes with at the ZUŠ in Dačice, awakened my love for art.

How did you manage to leave for Prague?

Better than my mother, I think. The transition went smoothly, I had arranged a dorm close to school and for the first few weeks my parents drove me to Prague in the car before I practiced properly for the bus home.

Were you satisfied with the level of study?

I certainly was. I think a lot depends on how you set up your studies, what studios you choose and who you want to learn from.

Is there enough attention paid to the problems of the disabled in architecture studies, is barrier-free accessibility, ergonomics, etc. addressed?

I think that this could be worked on. A whole course could be dedicated to ergonomics and barrier solutions. However, I remember in my first year we were given a borrowed wheelchair and we had to make a video of us using it and managing barriers, which I thought was a great way to introduce people to life as a wheelchair user.

Is sufficient attention paid to the problems of the disabled, is barrier-free accessibility, ergonomics, etc. addressed in the study of architecture?

I think it could be worked on. A whole course could be dedicated to ergonomics and barrier solutions. However, I remember in my first year we were given a borrowed wheelchair and we had to make a video of us using it and managing barriers, which I thought was a great way to introduce people to life as a wheelchair user.

Have you focused on these issues during your studies?

Not specifically on barriers only, but I tried to address the fact that disabled people could move comfortably in the designed environment in the projects we worked on in the studios. Mostly, though, I was put to the test and measured in addressing how much space was needed, for example, for a person with crutches and in a wheelchair to pass through or turn around.

Today you are active in the Wheelchair League. Was that your first job?

I started working while I was still in college, doing temporary jobs in various architectural studios, and after graduating I joined one studio. I started working at the Wheelchair League about two years after college when a friend told me about a vacancy for a self-sufficiency assistant. I felt like I could start to give back to the community what the other wonderful people I had met in my life had given me.

What is the job of a self-sufficiency assistant?

I refer to my position as being a technical support to my colleagues on our social rehabilitation team. So if they are dealing with a compensatory aid, choosing a car, modifying it, adapting the house, the apartment, access to the house. I deal a lot with remodeling bathrooms and kitchens, because managing personal hygiene and food preparation independently is important for feeling independent and self-sufficient, in my opinion. I also help to retrofit our sheltered housing apartments to suit the clients and their individual needs.

You also participated in the creation of the training apartment...

When I came to the League, the project was at the stage of a design in progress after my predecessor, the architect Adam Erben. I modified the project to suit myself, helped the partners in implementing some of the solutions and then helped the craftsmen in solving the details directly during the construction and furnishing of the apartment, so I know the apartment and the equipment down to the last screw.

What all does the apartment allow, what is it used for?

There are several options of furnishings and equipment for different degrees of disability, and we have also kept in mind the disability of the right or left side of the body. I use it most often to test the placement of elements in the kitchen and bathroom before proposing a specific adaptation solution at the client's home. The kitchen is also used by my colleagues when they teach clients how to cook and use various compensatory aids. Last but not least, it is one of the few wheelchair accessible accommodations in Brno and clients can come to us for a longer stay, for example when they are trying to become independent from their parents and need to try out what they will need to live independently.

Dita Horochovská, last year's winner of the Olga Havel Award, is behind the Prague training apartment project - do you know her? What are the differences between the two apartments?

I am familiar with the project and I met Dita Horochovská at the My Voice training at the League. Our flat is more of an occupational therapy workshop with the added value of being a showroom of different aids according to disability.

Does the Brno apartment also offer voice control?

This was not considered in the original budget, but in the future I would like to add computer and voice control to some of the features. I think it makes sense in controlling lights, window doors and the reclining bed.

Sports play an important role in your life. What do you get out of playing sports?

I always tell myself that if something hurts, I know I'm alive. Every workout I get my dose of endorphins and I'm happy to be moving.

What sports are you involved in?

Today I mainly swim competitively in SK Kontakt Brno and I also do freediving. I've also taken up instrument diving again and am currently doing a course so I can dive independently.

And before that?

I played para-hockey for Sparta for about six years. I also tried paragliding, parasurfing, instrument diving, yachting, monoski skiing and handbiking.

Do you plan to add anything else in the future?

I'd like to return to the ocean for a while longer and dust off the surfing. I'm also tempted by canyoning and ferrata climbing.

What is the financial and time commitment?

Swimming is not an equipment intensive sport, just a swimsuit and goggles. I go swimming twice a week for an hour and contribute about two thousand to the club for a quarter of the year. Freediving is something else, if you want to see interesting locations you have to invest quite a considerable amount in air tickets, on the other hand you can train your breath-hold at home on the couch.

What obstacles do disabled people interested in the sport have to overcome? Are there enough opportunities to play sports all over the country and at all levels?

Mainly distance, although currently the accessibility of sports is already quite good. But sometimes doing parasport means commuting several hours to train.

You yourself travel much further for sports, often quite adrenaline-pumping. What interesting places have you been to and what have you done there?

The most interesting places I've visited were on a surfing trip to Sri Lanka. Last year I was in Corsica on the OverBar handbike expedition and this year I participated in a freediving expedition in the archipelago off West Papua. Here, while diving with manta rays, turtles and sharks, I got the impression that we as humanity made a mistake in evolution and should have stayed in the water.

What does the opportunity to travel mean to you?

For me, it's learning about new cultures, often beautiful places I could never have imagined, and definitely freedom.

Do you have any unfulfilled travel dreams?

I've started to like Southeast Asia, so I'd love to travel the islands of Indonesia. My surfing dream is to see Hawaii, but I think I need a bit more practice for that.

You also met your partner through the sport.

I came to Lipno nad Vltavou to try monoskiing and met her under the slopes. We chatted while waiting for the ride. Then we contacted each other via Facebook, where we had a photo from skiing. And about a year later I invited Verča to the theatre, which was our first date.

Today you have a one-year-old daughter together. What kind of father are you?

I have a brother, Adam, who is 15 years younger than me, so I had a head start in this and it was not a problem for me to take care of Stella. I really enjoy being a parent, the little one is really fun, she surprises me with something every day. I try not to get in her way too much and just reassure her, rush in when she needs something. Sometimes I feel that if she could change her clothes and eat, she would be a completely independent person.

Do you manage to juggle all your activities with family life? How do you spend your time together?

At the moment I have reduced my sporting activities to swimming twice a week and occasionally some races where I try to take my daughter with me. I enjoy swimming lessons together the most and I think Stella, who loves the water, enjoys them too. We also often go for walks in the park. I mean, we ride, me in a wheelchair, Stella on a tricycle, she looks like a big biker. Weekends are mostly spent at some of my parents' houses or on trips.

You became one of the youngest laureates of the Olga Havel Prize. What does this award mean to you?

I respect Olga Havel and for me she is a symbol of a strong woman who fulfilled her role as First Lady with dignity. She has built an organisation that is committed to supporting disadvantaged groups and improving their position in society, and I value her work. It is an honour, a huge motivation and commitment to receive this award and I think I am only at the beginning of my journey.

How do you see your journey going forward? What are your plans for the future?

I would like to continue helping disabled people to improve their living space. If everything works out, I would like to show other people with disabilities the beauty of sports like freediving and surfing.

Text: Hana Cindrová
Photo: Anna Šolcová, Zdeněk Chrapek, Filip Pšenčík's archive



























„We wish that the right for dignified life is also enjoyed by those who live with handicap or mental illness, abandoned and old people, those who have a different skin colour or a different way of life, those in poverty or attacked by a malignant disease.“ Olga Havel
Toll-free +420 800 111 010 | Phone: +420 224 216 883 | Email: | Follow us on FACEBOOK
Our Supporters
Media Partners:
Receiving News

Please sign up to receive the latest news: