Monique Van Der Vorst interview part II: Paralympics to Rabobank contract
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Monique Van Der Vorst interview part II: Paralympics to Rabobank contract

by Shane Stokes at 3:48 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Dutchwoman ready to learn from the best in 2012

Monique Van der VorstHaving come to terms with life in a wheelchair and handcycling as her sport, Monique Van der Vorst had a huge change in her life last year when she defied expectations and regained the use of her legs. As she explained in part I of this interview, she went close to losing one limb as a teen, and then suffered spinal damage in a collision with a car in 2009, but bounced back from paralysis to become fully mobile once more.

Neither she nor her doctors understand how things turned around as they did. Rather than pondering it, she’s making the most of what she’s gained back, and has moved on to a new sport. She’ll race with the new Rabobank women’s team in 2012, lining out as a team-mate of Marianne Vos, and is aiming to absorb information from the world number one and the other girls.

“I’m very happy that I can learn from her, because as you know, she’s the best in the world,” she told VeloNation. “So, it’s good to actually have people like that beside you. I’m not at the same level yet but I have the same mentality. That is what is similar.”

In talking about the same mentality, she’s referring to the driven nature which earned her two silver medals in the 2008 paralympics and the victory in the handcycle class (against men) in the Hawaii Ironman last year. She trained 30 hours a week and if she shows the same determination in cycling, she should make rapid progress.

It’s natural to presume that regaining full movement was a fully positive experience, but there was one drawback. Her self identity was built around the thing she excelled at, then she was forced to stop. “One hard thing was that I loved my sport. I always saw my sport as something that had nothing to do with my disability,” she said. “I just loved it and I liked to try hard.

“I missed my passion and my training…I had trained for thirty hours a week. So that was a hard time and I had to get over giving up handcycling…that wasn’t easy.”

Van der Vorst had used cycling as one of the ways to start building leg strength and with handcycling competition out of the picture, her focus turned to pushing her limits in the new sport. She speaks about that challenge in the interview below, as well as detailing her goals, her schedule and also her transition towards being a competitive cyclist.

By her own admission she’s got lots to learn, but she’s also got the focus to do it. Rabobank’s most unusual athlete is taking her first steps in the pro peloton, and is committed to giving it her best shot.


VeloNation: Next season is going to be a whole new experience for you. By the end of 2012, what would you consider a success?

Monique VDV: Being able to ride in the group and improving my physical values and tactics. Also, showing that I can make another step. Longer term, the Rio Olympic Games is the big goal.

VN: Let’s talk about the mental effect of this great change. Having been in the wheelchair for so long, how was your reaction when you were actually able to walk and to cycle again?

MVDV: It was really a shock. First of all, it was beautiful because you could finally stand and look somebody directly in the eyes. It was still tough for a while, though, as I couldn’t walk to the store, I couldn’t carry a bag, so I was still not ‘able’.

One hard thing was that I loved my sport. I always saw my sport as something that had nothing to do with my disability. I just loved it and I liked to try hard. I missed my passion and my training…I had trained for thirty hours a week. So that was a hard time and I had to get over giving up handcycling…that wasn’t easy. But I just did it. I wrote my book, so that helped.

VN: You clearly had a very unexpected recovery. Were there any peculiar reactions from those people with disabilities you knew, and who were still not able to move?

MVDV: Well, there were no strange reactions as such…but there were some people that did not react at all. I would expect that people would at least send me an email. Some sporting colleagues did not send me emails or contact me at all.

VN: For want of a better word, do you think they were perhaps envious of what had happened?

MVDV: Yeah, that could be it. I feel that I would have contacted the other people if they were in the same situation. Anyway, that’s life. It’s really in the bad situations [rather than the good] when you know who are your friends and who are not.

VN: You said you were missing handcycling. At what point did you start going out and training on the bike for the sake of cycling itself?

Monique Van der VorstMVDV: Well, I really missed the training but the good thing was that I had a whole new body to train. So I could start to train different parts of my body. I never touched my handcycle after September 2010. I was training on the bike then, I was training my legs. I did a lot on the crosstrainer because that was the machine that moved like running. I’d love to run but I cannot run yet. I also did swimming because it’s good for my coordination.

Basically, I did all kinds of stuff to develop my body…that was my drive, to get everything out of my body. When I was paralysed I did some strange exercises to get stronger, and now I do the same.

Anyway, finally I missed doing competitions. But that wasn’t right away, that took half a year to happen.

VN: Obviously having spent so long in the wheelchair, your legs were not going to have the muscle tone of people who are walking. Has it taken long time to build that back up, to get the strength that other people would have?

MVDV: Well, first it took a long time…then suddenly it went very fast. Now my legs look normal. Okay, you see the different between the left and the right, and there’s quite a lot of difference in strength, because the left one was paralysed for so long. But if you compare my legs to normal people, not an athlete, you won’t see the difference.

VN: To get an idea of the timescale of this, what were you able to do in December of last year?

MVDV: Well, I was walking for ten minutes. At that time I was going three days a week to the rehabilitation centre to do my physio exercises. I did go to the gym and I went to the swimming pool. I did not really ride a bike outside, I just got my bike in March of this year. So, I’ve really been riding the bike for a short time. Sine then, I’ve been training a lot – from May until now I did almost 10,000 kilometres.

VN: Have you competed in the Netherlands?

MVDV: Not really, I only did three races. They were races with the club, so it was with men. That’s the only thing I did, but I showed that I was not afraid in the pack and that I could handle the speed.

VN: How did your contact with the Rabobank team first happen?

MVDV: Well, I have a physiotherapist and he put me in contact with the manager. He’s the manager of other cyclists as well. I had two other teams that offered me possibilities, but then he put me in contact with Rabobank. I had a meeting with Jeroen Blijlevens and he was very enthusiastic. A week later I had a meeting with the head guy and that’s how it went…I was given a one year contract with options.

VN: This move to the team is clearly going to be a big learning process, firstly in terms of getting the physical level needed and also in gaining experience and knowing the tactics of road racing. What are your goals for 2012?

MVDV: My goal for this year is just to learn and to get stronger and to stay in the peloton for the whole race. Firstly I need to be good enough to take part. I’m one of the eleven riders in the team, so I have to fight for my spot. I think there’s only six people in the races, so first I need to get better, to improve.

My goal is to learn, and we’ll see how it goes. At this moment I have no pressure from the team to get results in this year. They will give me all the time to improve. My goal and my dream - and I don’t know if I’ll be able to reach it - is the Rio Olympic Games. My dream is to participate in the Olympic Games in 2016.

VN: What are you doing now?

MVDV: I train almost every day, six days a week. Next week we having training camp with the team where I will meet the girls. Then I’m going to do some testing next week as well, and I’m just going to train. We will see. I think at the beginning of the year I will ride a lot of small races to learn. I don’t know what the first race will be, but I’ll work has hard as possible.

VN: I guess people like Marianne Vos will help you to learn the tactics and will give you advice?

MVDV: Yeah. I’m very happy that I can learn from her, because you know she’s the best in the world. So, it’s good to actually have people like that beside you. I’m not at the same level yet but I have the same mentality. That is what is similar.

But I just want to make clear that people shouldn’t expect me to win races next year. I’m just at the bottom and while I have got this great opportunity, I did not prove anything yet. I want to keep the pressure off a bit because we don’t know how it will work out.

VN: By the end of 2012, what would you consider a success?

MVDV: Being able to ride in the group and improving my physical values and tactics, and showing that I can make another step. Longer term, the Rio Olympic Games is the big goal.

VN: It’s a great story, and one which is already being spoken about a lot. I’d imagine you are going to get a lot of support from people as you push towards your goals..

MVDV: That is great. Support always helps in getting your spirit right. Sometimes training is very hard and painful, so it is always good to get support…

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Read part I of this interview here, where Van der Vorst talks about losing the use of her legs and her 13 years in a wheelchair.

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