‘Have patience, have faith and believe in yourself.’ Shanne Braspennincx – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 8

Olympian 2016 Shanne Braspennincx shares the story how she had a heart attack at the peak of her career, not only putting her in danger to miss the Olympics but also to never be able to compete in her sport again. Shanne outlines how she fought back and finally qualified for the Rio Olympics 2016.

In this interview she discusses

Christian: Today I am joined by Track Cyclist Shanne Braspennincx, who has been nominated by Jeffrey Hoogland in episode 4. Shanne was Junior European Champion in 2013 in the sprint and keirin, runner-up at the World Championships 2015 in the Keirin event, and just recently runner-up in the team sprint at the World Championships 2018. Shanne is a 2016 Olympian 2016 who had an interesting journey getting there.

Welcome, Shanne.

Shanne: Thank you.

Shanne’s darkest moment

Christian: Shanne, what was your darkest moment?

Shanne: My darkest moment was almost three years ago in 2015. During an altitude camp in Colorado Springs, America, I had a heart attack. I was doing a race that day and something didn’t really feel right, but I continued doing my usual things. The race got canceled due to the weather because it was an outside track. And that was my luck because if the race had been continued I wouldn’t be able to sit here and talk to you now. I went to the hospital and they rushed me into the ER, where they opened my artery which was 99% blocked.

I had a heart attack. Luckily, the race got canceled due to the weather, otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you now.

Christian: How did you recover from that moment?

Shanne: I stayed in the hospital in America for a few days. I was already away from home for about five weeks, so I was really eager to get home and be around friends and family. So, I flew back with the team a week later.

I heard afterward it wasn’t a good thing to do, because the stent that was in my artery had to set itself and be accepted by my body, so it wasn’t really convenient, but I just wanted to get home just to be home. And then there was a long rehabilitation and recovery afterward that ended somewhere in January 2016. That was a long dark period for me.

Christian: Just prior to the Olympics.

Shanne: Yes.

Christian: How do you stay mentally strong? Someone who has not been in this situation probably doesn’t know how it feels, but I guess there may be a fear of it coming back. How do you stay confident?

Shanne: I had a great medical team around me, who gave me the confidence that everything was okay. And I had to listen to my own body because I was my best personal doctor since I got to know my body really well in that year. I just kept on training and listening to my body and in every training building my confidence.

And of course, the track sessions or the gym sessions where I really had to push hard, I was like, “Can I do it? Can I not do it?” But it gave me confidence that my body was still capable of recovering after such training. Still, it was a long journey because when I went too deep I became ill for a week after because it took my body so long to recover. It was a long journey, but I think I’ve never been stronger now, so that’s a win for me.

It took my body so long to recover. It was a long journey, but I have never been stronger, that’s a win for me.

Christian: I still remember these moments, when you came to the gym and you had these electronics and this device to control your heart activity. In retrospect, I believe you didn’t seem to be too concerned, I think you were so positive.

Shanne: Yes, because my internal motivation has always been so high and I just love to do what I do on a daily basis, so I think that’s my biggest motivation. In my core, my passion for my sport is so high that everything around it comes naturally.

My internal motivation has always been so high, that everything around it comes naturally.

Christian: And the brother of your boyfriend had a heart attack recently, and he said you gave him the confidence to stay strong.

Shanne: Yes. He said, “You are my biggest example. You are my living, breathing example to know you are going to be alright and you can recover 100%.”

That really motivated me, that I inspire people to have the motivation to be their best selves, to just continue their life and that it doesn’t end there. A heart attack doesn’t necessarily have to end the quality of life, you don’t have to sit behind the flowers in a chair in the living room, you can live your life.

It really motivated me, that I inspire people to have the motivation to be their best selves. A heart attack doesn’t necessarily have to end the quality of life, you can live your life.

Shanne’s best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Shanne: I think you already mentioned it in the introduction. One of my biggest moment was getting the silver medal in the keirin in 2015 at the Worlds, because then it was like, “Holy shit, it’s possible for me to become World Champion.” And that’s my childhood dream.

Afterward my old coach, René Wolff said, “You could have won the title.” But I was 23 at the moment and I was like, “Yeah.” Anna Meares who won that race is the biggest champ ever in track cycling, so I looked up to her, and to lose to her I didn’t really see that as a loss.

Realizing I could have won the title there, that was my biggest eye-opener, that I really could make a change in this game.

My second best moment was that after my heart attack, when I was medically given the green light, I could go full gas and I could be an athlete once again. And realizing I can live my life until I’m an old granny in a wheelchair.

Anna Meares is the biggest champ ever in track cycling and I looked up to her, so to lose to her, I didn’t really see that as a loss. Realizing I could have won the title there, that was my biggest eye-opener.

Christian: I think that is pretty inspiring. A lot of people thought you were going to resign, whether you got the green light or not. But by sticking to it and coming back I think that is quite impressive.

Shanne: Mentally, I resigned immediately after my heart attack, because I felt like my body betrayed me, as I nurtured it so well and I always gave it chances to recover. Of course, I attack it on a daily basis to do training and go full gas, but still, I nurtured it through recovery and rest. But it kind of betrayed me, I really felt betrayed by my own body, so it was quite weird.

It took like three to four months to get that confidence back and be like, “No I don’t want to quit, where is my bike? I want to ride my bike.” It took me a couple of months to get back in the position to think that.

Christian: How did you do it?

Shanne: When I look back at that period I think of the four cornerstones in a person’s life – you have your home, you have your hobby, your income, and I think also your friends and family. And everything at the moment was pulled from underneath me, my five-year relationship broke off a couple of weeks before that, so I didn’t have a home, I didn’t have a hobby because cycling was my hobby and also my career, and I didn’t at that moment have a boyfriend or had my partner with me anymore, so I was like, “Who the f is Shanne Braspennincx?”

I really had to search for me again, I had to do some soul-searching as well as focus on recovering from a life-threatening occasion, so it was really hard. And my physiotherapist really helped me get through week by week. And also my family, my mother especially, really was my rock at that moment. I took it day by day, but it was pretty rough to say the least.

Christian: You overcame it.

Shanne: Yes, I overcame it, because my joy in life and sports took the upper hand, and I think that’s what brought me to where I am now.

Everything at the moment was pulled from underneath me, so I was like, “Who the f is Shanne Braspennincx?” But my joy in life and sports took the upper hand, and that is what brought me to where I am now.

Shanne’s advise to a younger Shanne Braspennincx

Christian: What advice would you give your younger self if you could go back in time 10 to 15 years and meet yourself with all the knowledge you have now and experiences?

Shanne: Just be confident in what you are already doing at that moment, it’s going to be alright, you’re going to be alright. No one has the guarantee that they’re going to be the athlete that they set out to be. So, I would tell my younger self to have patience, have faith, believe in yourself, because that’s always tricky. To have the patience to wait and to train; you may not get the results immediately, but just hang in there.

Be confident in what you are already doing, it is going to be alright, you are going to be alright. You may not get the results immediately but just hang in there.

Be confident in what you are already doing, it is going to be alright, you are going to be alright. You may not get the results immediately, but just hang in there.

Christian: What do you do in moments when patience and faith fade away?

Shanne: I think you have to look back at those moments where you already achieved something, like a small training goal, maybe I lifted the weights I wanted to in the gym. Or maybe I already did the time that I wanted to ride on the flying 200.

And if you’re already getting close to that goal you kind of get motivated like, “I’m on a good track now and I have to keep pushing.” So, I think you have to really look more to the facts than listen to your emotions. Yes, that’s pretty hard to do, but I try to do that even though it’s hard.

Look at the facts, rather than listen to your emotions. That is hard to do, but I try to do that even though it is hard.

Shanne’s success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful person or athlete?

Shanne: I think it’s my attempt to do everything perfectly. But that could also be annoying, because when it’s not perfect I am getting frustrated and that doesn’t really help, but it pushes me to go the extra mile. As an example, if I want to do a 3-hour road ride and I get home in 2 hours and 45 minutes, I do the 15 extra minutes in my neighborhood just to get to the 3 hours. I think that’s also a bit annoying, but it makes me, me. And I think besides that, in my core I really love doing what I do, so I think that’s my biggest plus.

Christian: Having worked with you for 6 years now I think also one of your strength is determination and commitment to what you’re doing, and that comes because you’re motivated from inside.

Shanne: Yes. I think that’s my biggest benefit.

Christian: I also think one of your strengths is you always try to think about the program and what we’re doing, try to see whether there are better ways or not. It doesn’t always work out but that’s why we are a team, you have the thoughts and hopefully, I have the expertise to carry them through.

Shanne: I love the vibe and the corporation with each other, to throw something at you and you throw it back at me and I look at it from a different angle sometimes and then I’m like, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think about it like that.”

I think that’s how it should be, not only following orders but also thinking about what you’re doing and what you want to do and what you want to achieve in your own athletic career.

My biggest strength is my attempt to do everything perfectly, that can also be annoying, but it makes me, me.

Shanne’s morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine? How do you get ready for the day?

Shanne: I have to have my coffee and my oatmeal. I tend to get up two hours or 90 minutes before training to be fully awake because otherwise, my food is in my throat when I start to train. I also have to have my pills, since my heart attack I’m on cholesterol-lowerers and blood thinners, so that’s like a precaution to keep me alive. And then I go to training and I train.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?

Shanne: When it’s like six weeks to go, I tend to get more strict on my diet and be a more boring person actually and not go to many social events and really look out for my rest time and take naps in the afternoon.

When it’s closer to the competition, I really like to schedule everything what I do day-to-day and also what kind of training I do, I really like to map it out.

When it’s race day I like to have a schedule – I warm up, have my coffee, do roll start, do roll sprints, then I change into my competition skin suit. Having a schedule makes things clear to me and then I don’t have to think that day like, “Oh shit, what’s the time I have to do that? What was it again?” I just want to have a clear schedule for myself and then I’m more confident and I don’t have to think about anything, I just can focus on the race.

Six weeks out, I get more strict on my diet and be a more boring person, I don’t go to many social events and really look out for my rest time and take naps in the afternoon.

Christian: And in the disciplines like Keirin and the team sprint you have to be spot-on. How do you get ready for that?

Shanne: I listen to my Spotify list which is a bit diverse. I tend to listen to music, because I really want to get pumped, so sometimes I listen to rock also. I listen to music up to 50 minutes before the race and then I put the music away, because I also want to get in the flow.

I want to be nervous, because when I am not nervous then it’s like, “What am I doing here?” I have to be nervous and I have to have that pumped up feeling like, “I want to go.” And if I don’t have that I’m like, “Shit, shit, shit, it’s not going to be alright?”

It never happens that I don’t get nervous, unless it’s a very small race in Holland and I am like, “Meh, who cares.” But most of the time, the World Cup or European Championship and World Championships I get nervous and then I know it’s going to be okay.

I want to be nervous because then I know it’s going to be okay.

Christian: That’s an interesting one. A lot of people talk about being nervous that. Nervousness is something you can use to get better, but if you don’t know how to use it, it can work against you. How do you use it to get better?

Shanne: I think when I am getting more nervous, I feel that I am in really good shape, because I know I can do it. You are so confident and you get so nervous like, “Fuck, it can really happen. I can really win this, or I can really push myself to a new level.”

So, I think the level of nervousness that matches that is quite high, but I can deal with it, because it gives me confidence. It comes out of confidence and the good shape I am in at that moment, so it helps me.

How Shanne overcomes setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks, when things don’t go your way?

Shanne: For me, it’s really hard to not look at things emotionally because I am really emotionally invested in the sport. My old coach taught me to look at the facts, like, “Look at your race videos, what did you do wrong there? What did you do well there?” And then I go like, “Oh yeah, I did that wrong. But I did this well.”

I really have to learn from my mistakes and look at the facts like, “I wasn’t in good shape or I wasn’t paying attention when the moment in the race happened.” If you learn from it then you can overcome the setback and you can look forward again and be like, “I have to keep that in mind and all my learning points and I don’t have to be surprised the next time it happens.” So, you can learn from your mistakes if it happens; that’s the idea, to learn from it.

I really have to learn from my mistakes. If I can learn from the mistakes, then I can overcome the setback and look forward again.

Christian: I have been working with you for some time now, I see you can get affected in training when things don’t go your way.

But I think what I have always liked about you is you never let bad things get the upper hand. So, even though you were affected, you managed to at least make the best out of it in training, and it doesn’t seem to carry on too long, and the next time I see you everything seems to be fine again. How do you do that?

Shanne: I get frustrated when things don’t work like the way I want them to work, when I don’t make the weights in the gym or when things don’t work out on a technical level.

I get so frustrated and then I get energy from that frustration. And then with the next training I know I don’t want to have that feeling again, I just want to do my training right at the first time.

And because I don’t want to have that feeling again I think I am able to close that day believing that there is always another day to do it better. If you carry every bad training with you when you get drowned in training. So, you really have to look at what went wrong and then put it in your backpack and try not to have it happen next time.

I get so frustrated, that I get energy from that frustration. And in the next training I know, that I don’t want to have that feeling of frustration again and I am able to close that day believing that there is always another day to do it better.
If you carry every bad training with you when you get drowned in training.

Christian: You can turn frustration into positive energy, or it leads into energy?

Shanne: Yes. When I get mad at myself I can do even more. I don’t know, it happens. Sometimes I wonder what to do to trigger myself to get mad or something, but it doesn’t work that way, you really have to be mad to have that level of energy that comes out of you, but you really cannot trigger that.

When I get mad at myself I can do even more. Sometimes I wonder, what should I do to  trigger myself to get mad, but it doesn’t work that way.

Shanne’s role model

Christian: Who is your role model, and why?

Shanne: I don’t really have a role model, I am my biggest role model I think. I really get inspired by people who overcome big obstacles, like my friend Merle van Benthem, BMX rider. She had a year-and-a-half of recovery, and last weekend she got to the finals twice, and it is so well deserved, because she works so damn hard to get there.

She was also recovering with me, when I had my heart attack, so she is always recovering from something. But she never gave up hope and always had the spirit to continue. So, that’s really inspiring that she stayed motivated, and I think I am at that same level from love for the sport and really knowing what I want to do. I think that’s inspiring for a role model.

I am my biggest role model, from love for the sport and really knowing what I want to do.

The best advice she ever received

Christian: What is the best advice you have received, and who gave it to you?

Shanne: I worked so long with René Wolff, my old coach, he said, “Don’t overthink everything, because in the basics it’s only just sports. You also have to stand still and look around and take in the moment. You are living the life, not everyone has a chance to live the life you are currently living. Also, enjoy it. You are always striving to be better and to be focused and to make every training into perfection, but also enjoy it, don’t just keep going, also take the moment to enjoy it. Sometimes it’s only just track cycling and it’s not the end of the world, sometimes you have to be more relaxed about it.”

Christian: It’s just riding in a circle.

Shanne: Yes. And it also gives good vibes, like I have to freaking enjoy this, because I only have 10/15 years to enjoy it and so make the best out of it.

I am living the life, not everyone has a chance to live,  and I have to freaking enjoy this, because I only have 10/15 years to enjoy it and so make the best out of it. “

A typical training day in the life of a Track Cyclist

Christian: What does a typical training day look like?

Shanne: It depends on the period that I am in because now I am doing strength training in the gym and on the track. Normally there is a track session in the morning and then in the afternoon, it could be a road ride, just spinning around for an hour, an hour and a half. And the track session could be like four times 500 from the blue line, or sometimes standing starts or sometimes 750 meters on really heavy gear.

And when I have gym, I do that in the morning and I can do a track session in the afternoon to transfer the strength into more speed with the track session. Or I can do road rides, but it really depends on which period I am in.

When I am going into the competition I am doing fewer repetitions and more race preparation, so I really have to rest more and do fewer sets, etc. And when I am in a heavy training period, I am tired as hell at the end of the week, just to build something to be better.

When I am going into the competition, I am doing fewer repetitions, more race preparation, and I really have to rest more. When I am in a heavy training period, I am tired as hell at the end of the week.

Shanne’s interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Shanne: I think I mentioned her already, Merle van Benthem, BMX Supercross rider and Olympian 2016.

Christian: We will reach out to Merle, it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Where can you find Shanne Braspennincx

Christian: Where can people find you?

Shanne: On Instagram, on Twitter, on my own website, on Facebook, but the most updated social media of mine is Instagram.

Christian: Thanks a lot for this interview Shanne.

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