Brazil football crash survivor finds new life in music


Jakson Follmann remembers when the plane’s engine died and everything went dark. Then, severe pain, and a cold rain falling on his body.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, he called for help, until he saw the beam of a flashlight shining through the wreckage of the fuselage.

It’s been five years since the plane carrying Follmann and the rest of the Brazilian football team Chapecoense Real ran out of gas on the way to the South American Cup final match, crashing into the mountains at the exterior of Medellin, Colombia.

Seventy-one people were killed in the crash. Follmann, now 29, is one of six survivors, although he lost his right leg below the knee.

“We were all so happy, so excited to go play for the title. Then overnight I lost my friends, I lost the source of my livelihood,” he said.

“After that my biggest dream became something so simple: to be able to walk again.”

Over the next half-decade, the former goalkeeper from the southern state of Santa Catarina had to reinvent himself.

With his football career cut short by the crash, he found new life as a motivational speaker and Brazilian country singer.

“As a child, I had two big dreams. Becoming a footballer came first. Then fate did what it did, and now I’m living my second dream through music,” he told the ‘AFP.

Follmann, who released four “sertanejo” singles (Brazilian country), spent two months in hospital after the accident and underwent treatment for 13 fractures, including two severe in the upper part of the spine.

He said he turned to music and his Christian faith to get by.

“I had two options after the accident: sit down and feel sorry for myself, or raise my head and face life,” he said.

He chose the latter.

He got a tattoo on his right arm – a photo of him in his Chapecoense jersey walking up a flight of stairs with his prosthetic leg, a giant dove in the sky above.

By 2019, he had recovered so well that he was able to appear as a contestant on the reality show “Popstar”.

He didn’t just take part in the show: he won, with songs from sertanejo that touched the hearts of the audience.

– Convenient, practical –
Follmann, who moved to Sao Paulo last March, played for Brazil’s national under-20 team and several local clubs before joining Chapecoense.

He had only played one official game for the underdog club, which had the best season in its history before the crash.

Only three players survived.

One, Alan Ruschel, plays today for the first division team America Mineiro. Another, Neto, tried to return to football but hung up his boots in 2019 after struggling to overcome injuries left by the crash.

Follmann, for his part, says in some ways that his new job is not that different from the old one.

“As a footballer I trained every day. Music is no different,” he said.

He set a new goal.

“I want to reach people,” he said.

“Music can transform lives, just as it has transformed mine.”

– Message of hope –
Follmann also gives motivational speeches at business events about overcoming adversity, delivering a message of hope.

And he has a book coming out soon, a mixture of memory and self-help guide.

“I had to dismantle myself to put the pieces back together. It took a lot of patience,” he said of the lessons learned on his trip.

Today, he typically wears his prosthetic leg exposed and jokes in social media posts.

Five years later, his mantra is a message that is no longer a cliché for him: “Live each day as intensely as if it were the last.