It has been five months since the last race of my career. I am very happy that I accomplished my dreams, ending my ten-year swimming career with an individual bronze medal in the 50m freestyle at the Olympic Games in London. It has been a long, bumpy road to achieve these results. It demands a lot of discipline, motivation and dedication. Especially since I gave birth to our daughter Hannah, 2,5 years ago.
Of course having a child gives you a lot of pleasure and energy, but let’s be honest; it takes energy as well… That’s why Camiel, my husband, and I decided to get a live-in au pair. who could support us while I was chasing my dreams.
Three months into my pregnancy, I broke the news to my coach Jacco Verhaeren, who was really happy for me. He immediately seized the challenge of coaching a pregnant athlete for the first time in his life, and I gladly accepted. Swimming during my pregnancy went very well. I kept it up until two days before I gave birth to Hannah. But of course, the bigger I got, the slower I went! Much to the amusement of my teammates, they could only see a floating island – my belly – when I swam backstroke!
Back in the pool
Hannah was born on 2 June 2010. Soon after that, I felt motivated to make a plan to regain the shape I had before my pregnancy. So I was back in the pool three months later, to get back on track for London. The reason I got fit so fast is that I pushed myself to do extra abs exercises and core training. It takes a lot of determination, but it’s absolutely worth it. Six months later I attended the European Championships and took part in two medal-winning relays. The young girls gave me a hard time, but it still gave me a lot of courage for the road that lay ahead.
You may be asking yourselves: how did she combine motherhood and professional sports? Well, I had some very supportive people around me, like my mother. She and Hannah came along on all the training camps of the Dutch national team, and she took care of Hannah while I was training. This wasn’t punishment for her, because most of these camps are held on sunny, white-beached holiday resorts. And you could say that Hannah is already a seasoned traveller, with passport stamps for Curacao, Shanghai, Sardinia, Tenerife, Rome and London.
It does require careful planning to take Hannah on a plane to all those different places and time zones, but most of the time it was a lot of fun. Many teammates gave her attention and entertained her. It’s important to create a safe environment so that the new ‘home’ feels like real home. Hannah felt very comfortable when she saw a cosy bed with her familiar teddybears in it. Having Hannah along on training camps gave an extra boost for my teammates and myself. They have said they will be claiming their cute little mascot to go with them on future training camps, while I enjoy my retirement.
- Make a reasonable plan. Better to do something ten minutes a day than two hours once a month.
- Start with light exercises and build up slowly to your capacity. That keeps things doable and fun.
- Getting fit doesn’t require huge investment (an exercise mat and running shoes are all you need).
- Make sure your husband supports you, because he will be happy with the results too!