A few weeks ago I saw my former team get together for the yearly bootcamp, the weekend that markes the kick-off of a new season. I have spent three years together with Swaboladies and honestly, it did hurt a little to be alone in my apartment in Groningen knowing that there was the Swabo-bootcamp. I am so thankful that I got the oppertunity to be with them for these years, they have done so much for me and helped me along the way. I made the decision myself to not stay in the team, it has nothing to do with the team itself, but it is a reflection of my past year (or years).
I did not know in September last year (2016) that I was about to face my biggest challenge so far in life, a challenge that was about to push my physical and mental ability to their limits. And I certainly did not know that it also might be a challenge that I could not win. Don't get me wrong, I am not a quitter and I am not the person who gives up, but sometimes you have to realise that you and your body have had enough.
Your body is very strong if you let it be, your mind is the most powerful part of yourself - but they both are also very fragile. Health cannot be taken for granted. When I was diagnosed with a recurrence of acute pericarditis I was devestated and could not believe it. Even though the cause of it was considered idiopathic (unknown), I thought I had done something wrong leading up to it. Even if I knew deep down inside that I am probably the most careful person in the world considering my health, I still doubted myself. It was very difficult to be in a position where you are seriously ill but they do not know why it happened. Because that gives you no clue at all how to try to prevent it from happening again. Also, I got the question many times from people around me (not family), or let me re-phrase it, I got the statement: "you did exercise while being sick, right?". Seriously. No I did not exercise while being sick - I am not stupid. Especially since I had already had it once before, I would never do that. What I want to say is that it is often much more complicated than that. I was already frustrated not being able to ride my bike so it kind of hit me hard that people thought I caused it myself. I know I did not.
My recovery was a roller-coaster. A lot of ups and downs but all the way until training-camp in February it still went okay. I trained a lot in Spain, both good and bad days, and I enjoyed being back with my team. I headed back to the Netherlands for one week of study to take the test for my application to Medical School, but that is another story.
When I look back at March/April/May, I see three months of me desperatly trying to take myself back to the start-line. I was cleared from my sports-cardiologist to train like normal again, I went on training-camp at Mallorca and I worked really hard. But something was wrong, something had changed. I told myself that I just have to keep going, keep on working hard like I always do - without even reflecting over how I really felt. I did not enjoy what I was doing anymore. It was more something that I felt that I had to do, maybe because that was what I always had done, and what people expected me to do. I guess these feelings also scared me and I did not want to feel that way. I wanted everything to be like normal, like nothing had changed. Not until I realised that I was the one who actually had changed, I could understand the feeling. I am honest when I say that my body does not respond to training as it did before my episodes of pericarditis. And I have been fighting for the past 3-4 years to be on elite level while I at the same time have struggled with illnesses and injuries. I know it is a part of the sport but to achieve as high goal as I want to, then all these major setbacks will affect your physical and mental strength in a more negative way than positive and for me, the negative part took over last spring.
Later in the summer I made a life-changing decision. I had already earlier decided to start medical school but this was different, much harder, and therefore I have not mentioned it yet.
I am not going to compete on the road again. At least not for now.
Making the decision was extremely difficult but in the end I knew that it was the only way for me to go. During the past two years road cycling has caused me more pain than I in the end could handle. But on the other hand road cycling have given me the most amazing experiences I could possibly imagine, something I would not want to exchange for anything in the world. It had for many years been the thing that made me so happy. And that is why I think it was so difficult to decide to step away from it, because even though it made me sad in the end, it has always been the number one thing that made me happy. And it still did, but not in the same way.
I might not going to race on the road next year, but I am not stepping away from cycling. My love for cycling is great and I could never just quit cycling. I started training mountainbike again this year and found that it was something I had missed so much and really loved. I cannot tell you what is going to happen now, because I don't know myself. But what I do know is that I have something in my mind that I want to work towards to, and when I am ready to share it with you then I will. So for now you may follow my journey to an unknown destination.
If you managed to read all the way down here, thank you. I am truly thankful for everyone that has supported me throughout this last year, especially my family and friends. And to everyone that has supported me throughout my whole journey as a road cyclist, all teams I have been in, the national team and especially Martin Vestby, my former trainer Klas Johansson, all my sponsors, my doctors and therapists, and of course my family and friends! I could not have done any of this without you. I have experienced being at the World Championships, taking several medals at the national championships, competed in the Ronde van Vlaanderen etc. and these are experiences I would not exchange for anything in the world
I am going into a new chapter as a cyclist and I am excited (and a bit nervous) what the future has to offer!
Daily quote: "There is a difference between giving up and knowing when you have had enough."
August 2016 - My first victory in the Netherlands, solo-victory in Ronde van Duizel
July 2017 - Vacation with my family in Åre (Sweden) and Norway, hiking and cycling