Interim Valley Talks with Els Visser

Els Visser is a professional triathlete. She studied medicine at Utrecht University and has a PhD in surgery. In 2014, she survived a shipwreck in Indonesia. In short: Els is a woman with a story. On 26 March she told this story to our own Adriaan de Heer during an online edition of Interim Valley Talks. It was a stimulating conversation to which viewers contributed by sending in their questions. The result? Numerous takeaways that are highly applicable to a corporate career. Here they are.

1. You can’t do it alone
‘I may be alone on the course, but a triathlon is a process that happens as a team. A nutritionist, a coach, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, my sponsors: I work with a complete support team so that I am ultimately able to race. I couldn’t do what I do without that team. Without the other triathletes either. Of course, at the outset they are my competitors, but during the training sessions we need each other in order to improve.’

2. Do what feels good for you
‘After the shipwreck, twenty of us spent a night in the ocean. When the sun came up, we saw an island. We had two options: swim to the island or stay with the boat and wait for help. Together with a few other people, I swam. And we didn’t look back: we just went for it. For me, it felt good to do something active, to fight for my life. I’m not saying that the people who stayed at the boat didn’t fight for their lives: for them that was the best choice. There’s no right or wrong.’

3. Focus on the moment
‘People often ask me what I’m going to do after my sporting career, but I’m not worried about it at all. Because of what I went through in Indonesia, I live in the present moment more. And I really enjoy being an athlete. Something else will inevitably arrive on my path, but exactly what that is? I’m not really worried about that. You have the same mindset during a triathlon. You start by swimming 3.86 kilometers. Then you cycle 180 kilometers, before running an entire marathon. All this takes me around nine hours. And there is no point thinking about the finish line. I focus solely on what I’m doing at that moment. The things I can influence. Section by section, kilometer by kilometer.’

4. Follow your own path
‘A lot of people are worried about what other people expect of them. They want to achieve something, but those expectations hold them back. So, they don’t take the step. But why wouldn’t they? What could go wrong? And if it goes wrong, what does it matter? I was a surgeon, and now I’m a professional athlete. People close to me were taken aback by that decision, but that doesn’t really bother me. I derive a lot of passion and energy from the sport, that’s why decided to become a professional triathlete. One of my heroes is Serena Williams. She is a great example of what you can achieve if you believe in yourself. If you have the drive to commit completely and go for it, so much is possible.’

5. Don’t be afraid to adjust your goals
‘You are often dependent on circumstances. If I get an injury, for example, then it may no longer be feasible to take part in a particular race, let alone win. Let it go, and set a few goal. Getting healthy, for example. That’s something I’ve had to learn, because impatience is one of my greatest weaknesses. I want too much too soon, but then I only set myself back. Ultimately you have to play the cards you are dealt. Every day, whether the cards are good or bad.’

Not every training session can be your best session

6. Keep working on yourself, and the results will follow
‘My coach always says: not every training session can be your best session. Look, of course you hope that every session is a diamond, but there are plenty that are just heavy stones. And you need those stones to lay a solid foundation. Because that gets you closer to the higher goal. It’s mainly about getting the best out of yourself every day. Focus particularly on what you can do now, and not too much on the end goal. When you do that, the results will follow. I really believe in that.’

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