Ice-skating champion Sanneke de Neeling
‘I’m succesfull because I’m a student’
Sanneke has been a skating fanatic since she was thirteen years old. In 2016, she surprised everyone by becoming the youngest speed-skating champion in the Netherlands. She joined the commercial Lotto-Jumbo team under the strict leadership of Jac Orie. However, she soon found out that this wasn’t for her.
She wasn’t getting the results she wanted. She stopped having fun and the doubt started creeping in. Finally, Sanneke switched to the Fryslân district. While this may have looked like a step backward to the outside world, for her it was a step forward. She finally had the opportunity to grow outside the world of ice-skating. It was the best thing she’s ever done.
Sanneke: ‘If you’re at the top, it’s perfectly normal to take a year to just focus on your sport and nothing else. But you get bored after a while. Netflix is only entertaining for so long.’
Top athletes can be too fanatical and develop tunnel vision
She thinks personal growth is just as important as skating. ‘I always wanted to go to university. As a little girl I wanted to be a scientist. When my skating performance started lagging, I decided I needed something to fall back on.’
As far as her former trainer, Jac Orie was concerned, skating was the only thing in the world. ‘Top athletes can be too fanatical, I think. They develop tunnel vision’, she says. ‘I enjoy having friends outside the world of skating, since they tend to be a bit more relaxed.’ She’s found that friendship in her fellow students, she says.
Pit of despair
She was also lucky to find her current trainer, Henk Hospes. ‘He’s flexible and really tries to work with me. Henk makes sure I have time for all my activities.’ She’s heard from other skaters who also attend university that their coaches sometimes tell them to reschedule an exam. ‘Their trainers insist that they attend every single training session. My team is more flexible, which works better for me.’
‘I’m convinced I won’t fall into a pit of despair after my skating career is done precisely because I’m also attending uni. I know my athletic career will end someday. Having something to fall back on puts me at ease. On top of that, I think the subject I’m studying is just really interesting.’
Even though her life is more flexible now, Sanneke keeps a pretty strict schedule. She lives in Heerenveen and trains at the rink in Thialf. She usually finishes her morning training by noon. ‘If I’ve got class in Groningen, I’ll quickly jump in my car. If I don’t, I’ll go home and take an online class or study. My next training session starts around three thirty.’ She takes Sundays off, though.
Top-class sports arrangement
How does she manage to combine a full-time sports career and her studies? ‘I’m pretty sure everyone can do this’, she says. ‘I think you need to just have the courage to keep a tight schedule and make those choices. If I choose to spend time on something, I want it to succeed.’
There’s a whole world outside the skating rink
She’s able to combine her sports career and her studies thanks to the UG’s top-class sports arrangement. ‘I’m studying at my own speed. I try to earn around forty-five ECTS a year. The university and I have always managed to figure it out.’
‘It also helps that the lecturers at my faculty enjoy my athletic career. They really try to work with me. If I have to miss out on a practical class, for instance, I can usually make up for it by joining a similar practical class at the chemistry department.’
She doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on much because of her way of life, she says. ‘Sure, I do miss regular student life sometimes. I would’ve liked to join a student association. But my sports career is so rewarding: I’ve travelled to countries like the United States, Japan, and Korea. I wouldn’t have been able to as a regular student.’
‘There’s a whole world outside the skating rink’, she says. She doesn’t think her future career will be on the ice. ‘There are so many subjects I’ve encountered during my studies that I’d like to explore. Like tissue printers that can print organs, or radiology.’
For now, she just wants to excel on the ice. The qualifications for the Olympic Winter Games in December are around the corner. She has no idea if she’ll make it. ‘I’ve been improving, thought. I didn’t have a great season last year, but I feel really good right now. I want to get better this year and try to skate a few world cups. I’m not sure what’ll happen after that. I’ll see.’