Sporting champion’s difficult choices work out well

During the European Championships in Berlin this summer, Marlene van Gansewinkel (second-year Human Kinetic Technology student) won gold for the 100 and the 200 metre sprints, and on top of that, they were both world records. So, you could say that 2018 was a good year for her. But it didn’t look that way in 2017. A different training method and the decision to study ensured she overcame her post-Olympic dip.

“2017 was a difficult year for me”, explains Marlene about the period she became overtrained. “It was a post-Olympic year. I had worked towards the Paralympic Games, trained hard and got a bronze medal in the long jump. After the games, I fell into a kind of dark hole. I was bored and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I started training even harder, but that just took me deeper into the abyss.


Marlene’s mind was restless. She didn’t feel athletic, or talented. “I felt I didn’t fit the picture of what an athlete should look like. I thought I was carrying too much weight.” But training more wasn’t the answer. “I started doing more general training; so beside athletics, I went cycling and swimming. The fact I started studying also helped me. Training, sleeping, and then training again may be good for you physically but less so for your brain. I am now busy with my mind so things aren’t as boring anymore.”

Perfect match

Before she started studying, Marlene looked at various degree programmes. “My sport is my life. I sport 30 hours a week of which 20 are training. A degree programme has to be really good if I am going to dedicate my time to it. Human Kinetic Technology was the perfect match for me. I learned a lot about my own body and other bodies. I can feedback that knowledge to my teammates. A team member for instance had issues with her shoulder when she was doing an exercise. I saw that there were problems with controlling specific muscles, so after discussing with the coach, we got a physiotherapist involved.”


In her course, Marlene learns all about protheses and medical aids, and that’s something that is useful for her, too. “Here, I learn about anatomy and physiology and about design. I was able to create something for myself which improves my strength training. You deadlift with a bar, but because I am missing an arm, it’s difficult for me. I now use a self-designed strap over my shoulder and chest so I can use the bar.”

Taking risks

With two world records, the European Championships were certainly a highpoint for Marlene this year. “I hadn’t expected that at the start of the season. Training was going well, but I hadn’t thought I could take such a big step. It was also good because it showed me I had made the right choices. I took risks by stopping in Papendal, training somewhere else and taking the leap of faith to my own team (see box below, ed.) I made myself happy again. That was also one of this year’s highpoints. That I found my place and feel good about myself.”

Setting up a team

Marlene first trained with the national team in Papendal, but her coach left. She decided to follow her coach but then she had to pay for him herself. With a fellow team member, she set up the first commercial para-athletics team. The team is not exclusively focused on top sport. Marlene: “In revalidation centres they often mention all the things you can’t do anymore, but we want to give a more positive message that looks more to what the possibilities are.” Do you want to know more about this team? Would you like to support it? Click here.