Chatting to Triathlete Vicky van der Merwe
Vicky van der Merwe is rarely standing still. Between her triathlon successes and running her own business, she keeps herself seriously busy. We managed to catch up with her (barely!) and she told us all about what makes her tick.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you come to be a triathlete?
I’ve loved sport since I was very young. I think I drove my mom crazy with all the sports I did – she had to drive me from one training session to the next all day long! I earned provincial colours in 9 different sports while I was at school. I swam from quite a young age (8) and competed in my first international swim meet (in Australia) at age 12. I discovered running when we were ‘forced’ to compete in an Inter-House athletics meet in High School and I was hooked immediately. However, I didn’t want to quit swimming so I decided to just add cycling and do Triathlon! I received junior Protea colours for Triathlon at 15 and competed in my first junior world champs in Japan that year. I haven’t looked back. I have competed in more than 40 different countries and have seen the world through my sport.
I went to Bloemhof Girls High school in Stellenbosch, where they were very supportive of my sport. After school, I studied and completed a LLB Law degree while basing myself in Australia – which was the best place for me to be to improve and to gain valuable international training and racing experience. I have a huge passion for Law, in particular Sports Law and this is something that I really want to go into. It is difficult at the moment as I spend most of my time training and I also have my own business, Stellenbosch Triathlon Squad, so my time is limited.
It seems obvious to think that an athlete has been naturally sporty all their lives, but the truth is that many people only discover a passion for it later on. Was that the case for you or have you always been naturally athletic?
I have always been super sporty. I have an older brother who was really good at rugby and I always hung out with him – a real tomboy! I think it’s just in me. I’ve loved all sport and training since I can remember. It just gives me such a rush and I’m definitely addicted to training – when I’m injured, I get super grumpy!
Being a triathlete means you that have to be really good at 3 disciplines instead of maybe just one; do you have a favourite and a more challenging segment of a triathlon?
Favorite – running! Love love love it… except I don’t like injuries. I have had hip surgery so I have to manage myself well and I can’t run as much as I would like to. More challenging I guess at this stage is swimming… I’ve been doing it for sooo many years and it’s a tough sport that takes a lot of discipline as it’s not very social – it’s just you and that black line for hours and hours. It’s also hard to wake up in the winter at 5 am to go and swim – the thought of water when it’s freezing outside isn’t great, but it has to be done! I also really enjoy cycling. We have great training groups and amazing cycling routes and trails here in Stellenbosch, which is awesome.
Do you spend equal amounts of time training for each discipline?
No, cycling definitely takes more time, especially long rides over weekends… then running … then swimming. An average training week is about 20 hours for me and the most I’ve done is 30 hours (in base phase).
You obviously burn lots of calories in your training, does this mean that you get to ‘pig out’ every now and again?
Of course I do. I try not to but I’m only human – and I love food!
While there are lots of other competitors around you when you are competing, everyone is very focused on their own race; do you ever feel lonely out there?
Yes, everyone does their own thing until the race is over. You feel lonely in the swim, but our racing is draft legal so you always have people around for the cycling and the running. But yeah, until the race is over you don’t really have friends out there!
Because this is an individual sport you really have to be responsible for motivating yourself, how do you do this when you are out there on a tough day?
My mentor, Elana Meyer, once told me,“Just do what you’ve got to do, day in, day out… before you know it a week, 2 weeks, a month, a year is over and you’re where you need to be. So just do everything right, every day’’. I remember that. I also focus on my next goal or race when I’m having a tough day – it helps me to push through when I know it will be worth the reward.
Can you tell us a little about The Triathlon Squad?
Sure. I started it in December 2014 and absolutely love working with such a diverse group of people – they have become like family to me. Basically we cater for all levels – beginners to elites – and offer structured group swimming, cycling, running and core sessions. We also offer online coaching for those people who are more serious and need more specific data or for people who aren’t as lucky as we are to live in Stellenbosch. We have different 12-week blocks that run throughout the year which build up to certain races, such as Xterra, 70.3 East London and Durban, etc. I have a fantastic team of coaches and we love seeing the athletes improve and reach their goals!
What are the first steps someone should take if they want to get into this sport?
Set a realistic goal working towards a specific event. Preferably ask a friend to join you. Join a cool group that can motivate and inspire you –if your mind believes, your body will achieve!
Can you describe a really memorable moment you’ve had on a race?
Ah, there are so many… but I guess when I got my first podium in a European race. It was great when it all came together eventually after lots of hard work.
If you had to put together a 3-person celebrity tag-team for a triathlon event, who would your team be and why?
Swimming – Michael Phelps, Cycling – Peter Sagan, Running – Usain Bolt… they are all absolute legends of their sports and I think it would be sooo funny to see Sagan and Bolt with their outgoing personalities in a tag team!
Quickfire (Just for fun)
What you’d buy at a petrol station late at night… chocolate Steri Stumpie
Superhero power you’d most like to have… hmmm, to be able to fly to places – I hate traffic!
If you could grow anything on a tree (bar money!) what would it be? Curro shares or makeup.
A gift you’ve been given that you really treasure… a leather wallet that my best friend gave me just before she passed away last year.
Pet peeve… arrogant people.