The start of the racing season

The start of the racing season

After the Camino I slowly started to build up again from three days to six days of training. In May, just before I left for a training camp in Crete, I was back in the full program. For this reason, we have decided to open the racing season later, on July 1. This is also the date of my aunt’s death and has been a difficult day for the past few years. It doesn’t feel that way anymore.

It feels powerful to open on this very day.

Below you can see where I will be running competitions. Always nice when you can come and watch and encourage. I missed that a lot last year.

I had a good training camp on Crete. It got off to a good start because the rubbish bin was already my best friend. This training camp was special for several reasons. I participated for the first time with RTC Brabant Atletiek led by Joep Janssen. RTC Brabant Atletiek consists of a group of young Brabant athletes who have ambitions to become top athletes. Some win medals at the Dutch Championships and others want to go to the European Championship or even the Olympic Games. There is a nice atmosphere in this group and everyone can be themselves and is very driven. I discovered that I need to train in a group to get better.

Last year Keith Antoine from Great Britain was my head coach and Joep worked with him. Some had an opinion as to whether this was wise. Still, it was something I needed at the time and was curious about his approach. My training sessions were mostly only with Joep. And Joep and I found out that we can handle the adventure alone. In addition, I noticed that remote coaching does not work for me. So I wrapped it up nicely with Keith after Tokyo.

Joep is a young talented trainer at Prins Hendrik in Vught and for him I am his first para-athlete whom he can guide higher to the top. Conversely, this is the first training season for me in which I have found peace and a stable relationship of trust with my coach. I was allowed to look into different cuisines and I also needed that to discover what suits me. But working at such a high level, the bond with your coach is essential. That basis must first be good before you start thinking about the next steps. Sometimes I also clash with Joep and then we don’t always agree. But it has to be, that’s part of it.

The bond between coach and athlete is not always easy going.

My partner also came by in Crete for a midweek to take pictures and see how the training sessions are going.
It turned out that it was a man with a plan. On his birthday he proposed to me. After 7 years of relationship he knew for sure and so did I. The best part is that he did that the moment I could say I love myself.
If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else.

I flew back to the Netherlands with a ring on my finger.
All in all I feel like the happiest woman in the world.

I now feel that I’m in great shape and I’ve never felt so much in the mood for competitions. Except for a few minor aches and pains, I was able to train well and remained intact, partly thanks to Hashtag Physio. There were tough workouts that made me nauseous. Sometimes I still marvel at that. How hard you have to work to get a few tenths off your time. Athletics is arguably one of the toughest sports out there.

I can still remember when I saw the 4x400m team from the Netherlands train in Stellenbosch. It is the combination you must have. The talent but also the will to do the work for it. There just aren’t many of those people. It’s really a tough job. Also keep in mind that some athletes don’t get paid for it and have to work side by side. An amateur football player still has a good salary. More attention should be paid to sports in general in the Netherlands. Media is mainly about football & Formula 1.

While there is so much more inspiration than that.

Once again let the season begin.

I’m curious.

Then I took your hand.

Then I took your hand.

We would sit in the car listening to the song Sunny Days by Armin van Buuren and I would take your hand. You then squeezed my hand back and smiled at me. You radiated warmth and love. With your eyes, you said, “I’m here for you, girl.” My aunt took her own life on July 1st, 2019.

Some people say, “That was three years ago, wasn’t it?” Processing grief is complex, and there is no right or wrong. Everyone does it in their own way. This year I decided to actively do something with it. Because I was ready. Letting go of someone you couldn’t prepare for is one of the hardest things. Mourning is a sport. Since July 1st, 2019, I have been doing two top sports simultaneously. It consumed me completely; the scales were not in balance.

Why did I walk 125km in 6 days?

There will come a time when you will have to move on without your mother in your life. This moment came when I was 8 and a second time when I was 29. I had such a sweet aunt who was willing to inadvertently take on that role in my development as a mature woman (8th to 29th). Some people go through losing a parent—when it comes naturally—much later in life. There was no one left with a mother role in my life. This painful fact gives me an official sense of maturity and requires me to stand on my own two feet. That realization and the associated process are not simple.

After the Tokyo Olympics games, I thought a lot about why it was bronze. Which route should I take to be even faster in Paris? I would have given it a few years if I wasn’t a top athlete. But I didn’t have this time, so I couldn’t help but look my fear, pain, and sadness straight in the eye. The mirror of my own pain.

My aunt had left me letters, leaving me with all kinds of unprocessed emotions for a long time after her death. November passed, then December. Then January 2022, no difference came. I mostly felt sad. I was shocked, and I no longer recognized myself. After 3 months, I called in the auxiliary troops. The top sport went into the background for three months. I only trained over three days instead of six. Professional sports were no longer the most crucial thing in my life. I needed to put myself and my mental health first because I hated feeling this way. I recognized that I could not get out of the pit alone. After all, you don’t do anything alone.

A pilgrimage to find and lose something

I talked to a mental coach and planned a solo walk. They call it the Camino in Spain, a pilgrimage. So people often think that only believers walk this route. But during the walk, I met enough ‘non-believers.’ People who wanted to enjoy the peace and the beautiful landscape or just wanted to be on the road. Some walked the Camino for a deceased loved one, like me.

I started in Valencia Do Minho in Portugal and ended 6 days later in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was 125km. 20 km per day, and the last day was 25 km. I did this alone, an exciting but conscious choice. This was my process. Sometimes you are allowed to step out of your safe harbor to develop yourself.

During the walk, I realized that even if you do something solo, you are rarely really alone. During such a walk, you meet different people, each with its own story.

During the walk, I wrote several letters back to my aunt. Even though I knew she wouldn’t read them, I visualized this. I did this mainly to give space to my own emotions. It felt as if I was walking with a heavy backpack. However, that backpack got lighter with every letter I wrote to her. The burden I felt gradually eased.

What have I started?!

During the hike, I faced physical challenges such as blisters on my stump and strenuous uphill treks. I regularly scratched myself behind the ears and asked, “what the hell am I doing?” I discovered that walking is different from sprinting. Yes, I’m in great shape, but I didn’t do this for a while. Because I’m not trained for this. What this type of walk asks of your body is something completely different. Still, I made it because the top sport has prepared me for the mental challenges that physical problems bring. So I made it, but that took a lot out of me.

On the last day, I saw that church in the distance and couldn’t believe my luck. It was still 5 km! My body was screaming stop this. I discovered that I can stand on my own two feet without my mother and – when the time comes – even without my father. My father has already given me everything I need to know. The loss of my aunt will always remain, and that is allowed. You have loved someone very much for a reason. This love will always remain.

Death is something that comes after life. Sometimes unnatural, sometimes natural. Sometimes you get so caught up in life on things you have no influence on, but that happens anyway. The trick is to let the emotions be there and stay in the moment. Because NOW is all we have. 

In my case, I walked it out. Step-by-step. That’s one way too. My advice would be; to find your way.

I am enjoying running fast on the athletics track for the first time in a long time. I owe that to the team of people who are now around me.

Why did I want to do this again?

That unrestricted feeling. 

The peace in my body and mind. 

That I have nothing to lose. 

That it will be okay. 

I found that.

Do you have any questions or comments? 

Put them in the comments.

There’s more to come before the competition season starts. So keep the blog and my socials.

Who is the first female on the Xiborg V blade?

Who is the first female on the Xiborg V blade?

I’ve already run with it at the ONK Para Athletics, but I was not allowed to make it public at that time. That changes now: “My new blade is a Xiborg V.” And, Xiborg is also a new partner for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo

Xiborg supplies me with this high-performance blade and supports with the alignment.

I like Xiborg because they make the blades by hand. This blade is not factory work, but high-quality Japanese craftsmanship. This makes it very personal. Ken Endo, the Xiborg V developer, makes the blades as if they were for his children. 

Xiborg and Ken go beyond just developing blades for top athletes. In Japan, they provide other amputees the opportunity to use their blade library. This approach allows both children and adults with a prosthesis to exercise again in an accessible manner. It offers several brands of blades from this prosthesis library, such as those of Össur & Ottobock

This way, everyone with an amputation has the opportunity to exercise again. For example, you can rent and test blades and gain experience with different brands and in various sports. 

xiborg blade library

Xiborg is a young company that is relatively new to the market and based in Tokyo. Xiborg’s blades are still under development, and I will contribute to this. If the global situation allows, Keith and I will go to Tokyo to test and see how we can make the blade even more suitable for me. 

In the long run, who knows, a blade to which I have contributed will come onto the market. How cool is that ?! 

Since July, I have only been gaining experience with the Xiborg V blade. During the first days of testing, I was still a bit reluctant. It didn’t feel remarkable. In the video, I saw that my contact with the ground for far too long. The difference with the blade – on which I have achieved my successes to date – is enormous. My old blade reacts too fast, and it interrupts my stride. 

When we spoke with Ken and shared videos with him, we quickly discovered that the blade needed to be a bit stiffer and that the alignment was far from optimal; the blade leaned back too much. Because of this, I planted every spike in the track and nailed myself to the track. 

The first connector which attaches the blade to the socket is quite heavy, and it also colored my experience. However, the connector was necessary to determine and test the length correctly. When the length was correct and the adjustment was better, the blade started to work for me. Xiborg sent a stiffer blade, a lighter adapter, and Hervé put the blade more on its tip. The Xiborg V and I came to life. 

By September 10th, I was sure. This is the blade for me. I’m going to fly with this.

All in all, this was quite an exciting period. After my vacation, I quickly came to a decision on the blade. A week and a half later, I stepped into the blocks with a blade that I had barely trained on. 

Considering that you usually need about two months to get used to a new leg, and I was going to run at the ONK Para Athletics within a week and a half after making a choice. Also, Keith decided not to train on sprint endurance, but mainly on strength and technical aspects. Before the ONK, I had only run 100 meters on the Xiborg V once. 

The period after the ONK, I went into winter training. During training, I get a better feeling with the blade and how I need to hit the Xiborg V. This, in combination with a better basic technique, creates more balance between my left and right leg. 

Sometimes you have to take a few steps back and then make a jump. I feel like I did with the Xiborg V!

old an dnew xiborg v
Silver at the ONK Para Athletics

Silver at the ONK Para Athletics

Later than expected, the party called ONK Para Athletics. This time it took place in Tilburg at AV Attila instead of at Eindhoven Atletiek. To be honest, I did not feel any pressure to perform. I thought 2020 was partly a disappointing year and I’m sure I’m not alone. Though, I’m glad I was forced to put on the spikes and run.

This year is a downer for athletics in general, but for Para Athletics, it is even more disappointing. The Diamond League started and we – Para Athletes – had to make do with national competition and test matches “made official”. With everything happening this year, I really didn’t feel the need to prove myself. As a result, I had not raced yet this season.

winter training 2020

Simply put, I had other things on my mind. I changed trainers and teams twice because the situation wasn’t sustainable for me due to me having to travel 2,5 hours a day on a good day and way more on a bad one. So a new team had to be shaped and get used to each other. My trainers, Joep and Keith, had to find a method that works for both of them. In retrospect, this went very well but that is mostly luck.

So I quickly got used to the club Prins Hendrik and their track. Luckily that wasn’t too hard, because the environment felt like coming home. The track and club are much more than just an athletics track, it’s alive with people! Young and old are there during my training sessions and I really enjoy that. Everyone is welcome.

In addition, I had some minor inconveniences in the last few weeks before it ONK Para Athletics and I went on vacation for a short two weeks to process everything with Hervé. We had to because this was not the year we were preparing for. It became something completely different and it had to be dealed with.

But that’s done now and when we returned from vacation with a few important decisions ahead of us. Soon, I can tell you more about it. All of this means that I have not been able to train for the past two months as I usually would. Which I certainly felt this during the race in Tilburg.

To get the feeling for racing again, I ran my first race of the year on Friday, September 18th, during the Wageningen Track Meeting. When I think about it, it’s bizarre that I haven’t ran an official race since Dubai. The pressure I put on myself in the run-up to this match was considerable. There I ran a 13.56 with a +0.5 m/s tailwind. 

Last year I opened with 13.8 and finished with 12.9. Although the time is not what you would expect from me, I was not dissatisfied given the targeted training that I was unable to do. This race was to get the feeling back and Keith & Joep were also satisfied with it. Who knows what next year has in store for me. 

Two days later was the main event, the ONK Para Athletics at AV Attila in Tilburg. On that day, I hardly felt any pressure. I went for a race to show myself and to improve my time in Wageningen. That morning I picked my racing kit and I chose the Adidas racing suit for the first time.

So Joep and I drove to Tilburg, without Hervé because of the Corona measures. Which is weird because he has been there at nearly every race. So he has not seen me race in-person outside training this year.

Once there, it was nice to see all my former teammates from both Papendal and Amsterdam again. If this had been a ‘normal’ year, we would have already been on a training camp together and would have seen and spoken to each other a lot more.

Finally, I could get ready for the race. During the ONK we race in mixed series. The Netherlands actually could organize a T62/64 race, we have 4 women that run at world level with Marlène van Gansewinkel, Fleur Jong, Marlou van Rhijn and myself. Sadly we won’t all be there.

The race went fine. Fleur won the race, which was completely expected given her form this season. My reaction at the start was excellent, a definete improvement over Wageningen. I partialy did what we Joep & Keith told me to do. The second part of the race was a bit too relaxed. Helping me to improve my time by 23 hundredths. To a 13.33 and I am not dissatisfied with that. It is a breath away from the Dutch limit for the Paralympic Games (13.30) and I won the Silver with it. 

The winter training season has started for me, much earlier than in previous years. This has to do with Joep and Keith’s plan for 2021 and because the circumstances made this year “the year of reorganization”. I feel fit and healthy and I have the energy to go for it again.

Do you want to ask or tell me something? Please do in in the comments, I read them and I love to respond!

A quick getaway

A quick getaway

For some athletes, the Coronavirus pandemic was a convenient crisis. For others, less so. Every athlete deals with the situation in their own way. One person might merely sustain their level of fitness, another might focus on achieving peak performance.

For myself, the recent pandemic was a convenient one that didn’t make me feel I lost much progress over the past year; in fact, it was a very successful one. My achievement in Dubai works on me in a special way. People expect things from me now. Before, I was an underdog at best, and I enjoyed that position. You’re still uninhibited and nobody expects anything of your debut performance. Now, the world feels different.

I need to be more critical of my environment these days. I’m also asking myself questions like “How do I stay true to myself in this world of professional sports?”, “How do I keep my own identity in the face of rising expectations?” and “Is the world of professional athletics really as unforgiving as people say? Or is it mostly just hard work and the focus on creating a little world of your own?”

I’d like to be “a sweetheart and an upbeat type of woman” but how do you retain a sweet personality in this world of high performance? Before this whole adventure started, I worked in healthcare because I wanted to take care of people who are in a bad position. That caring aspect is still a major part of me. I don’t tend to put myself in first place, I tend to give that place up to others. That has changed now. The Coronavirus pandemic gave me time to stop and reflect on myself.

And to stop and look at everything that has happened to me and what has changed since.

For a brief moment, I think back on that time I was eight years old, in the hospital after the accident. I kept taking baths to soak the bandages off the stump of my leg, because unwrapping them hurt too much. And I really wanted to do it ‘all by myself’. I wouldn’t allow the nurses to touch it. This idea of doing things ‘all by myself’ is a big part of my personality. I like to have things under control and I don’t like handing over responsibilities to others. On one hand, this really helps me in making decisions, as I trust myself more than anyone. On the other hand, this also means I find it difficult to give up control over things.

You can assert control over certain things in life. But if there is one thing in life that can never be guaranteed, it is certainty.

I was confronted with this once again on the first of July, 2019, when my aunt died. She was my favourite aunt and she had always been there for me. My bond with her was special. At least all the good memories I have of her remain. I now have time to mourn her, to be sad she isn’t around anymore. 

This means that over the course of the past year there have been many moments I wasn’t feeling all that well. And even though it’s been more than a year, for some reason the loss of my aunt seems to impact me all the harder now. And that is ok, those feelings are valid. 

I recently finished a book about a woman who survived a plane crash and suffered through great loss. A small quote from the book stuck with me:

“Nothing remains lost forever. Who or what we have lost becomes a part of ourselves. Who or what was once part of your past, will become part of your future as well. Like Einstein proved, energy cannot be destroyed but can only be made to change its form. Loss brings you closer to the love you once had -or still have. The deeper the bond, the greater the sense of loss, the greater the loss, the deeper the feeling of love.”

Through these experiences of loss you tend to face life differently. You stop taking things for granted. So if this year isn’t about anything, let it then be about me.

A new training location, new coaches, my friends and family close to home. Having my dogs close to me to hug and walk them whenever I want. My home as a place of rest. The man I love and I back together as a team once more.

It’s time to enjoy life and be happy again. To soar over the tracks, to find joy in running again. Because I will make the way things are going now a blueprint for my athletic career for the years to come.

It will still be hard work, but it will no longer be in a hard world.

I took a little two-week holiday for some physical and mental rest. My winter season starts now. I’ll build myself up calmly. And in September I’ll run another race or two.

Keith Antoine, my coach, told me to think on where I stood before I went on my holiday. At that point, I thought he was talking about absolutes like times and fitness. He then told me: “Imagine your destination lies north, and you know the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Then you’ll know that when you see the sun set in the west in the evening, you’re still heading in the right direction. Knowing where you stand means knowing that you’re heading the right way. That’s all the certainty you need. No navigation necessary.”

Learn to enjoy the process and every little step that makes you better.

Translation by BeatTheTrail.com