Rower Ymkje Clevering

World champion while you wait

Medical student Ymkje Clevering had to wait sixteen months to start her internship. She figured she could start rowing in the meantime. The result? A world title and a spot in the Dutch Women’s eight.
By Lucia Grijpink / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen / Photo by Reyer Boxem

Ymkje Clevering is strong. Very strong. When she joined rowing club A.G.S.R. Gyas as a first-year student who had never even held an oar, this turned out to be to her advantage.

Her trophy cabinet is bursting with prizes and medals. She won one at the Dutch Championship with her rowing partner Veronique Meester, one at the Henley Royal Regatta, and of course the gold medal that she won at the World Under 23 Championship.

She has since moved from Groningen to Amsterdam in order to be able to train as much as possible. But she is still a member of Gyas. Obviously. Last week, she briefly returned to Groningen, to be honoured in her club’s old familiar haunts.

Never rowed before

Her life did not naturally progress to this point. When she came to Groningen to study medicine at the tender age of eighteen, she had never rowed before. But she was willing try anything. She quite enjoyed rowing, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay with the club, since the social gatherings took up quite a bit of time. ‘I almost left after the introduction period. But after I got to know the people in my crew, I decided to stay after all.’

No more drinking, training six times a week, abstaining from alcohol, and going to bed before midnight every night

Clevering and her crew spent that first year ‘combo-rowing’; they trained, but they mostly drank. In spite of their lacklustre training regimen, they often did quite well – to their own amazement.

At the end of her first year, she was selected for a talent project and she got acquainted with competitive rowing. This meant: no more drinking, training six times a week, abstaining from alcohol, and going to bed before midnight every night. It was a strict regimen, but Ymkje was hooked.

A year off

It netted her a bronze medal at the World Under 23 Championship. It also made her realise that she was truly talented. She decided to take a year off from her internship to make the most of this talent. When the long waiting list for internships meant she had eighteen months off, there was nothing stopping her from focusing completely on rowing.

What also helped was the fact that Clevering really clicked with a rower from the Amsterdam club of Nereus, Veronique Meester, with whom she had partnered at the world championship. They were a perfect match. ‘I may be strong, but it takes more than two years to truly learn how to row. Veronique’s technical ability is fantastic. I quite enjoy sitting behind her in the boat.’

From that moment on, Clevering rowed with Gyas during the week, staying with Meester on the weekends and rowing at the Bosbaan in Amsterdam in an effort to qualify for the World Under 23 Championship once again. After that, Clevering would have the long summer all to herself.

‘Except we turned out to be capable of so much more than we had ever imagined’, says Clevering.


They won the Dutch championship and were asked to head the Women’s eight at the European championship in Czechia. ‘But that also meant we needed to train at the Bosbaan every day. And so I had to leave Groningen much sooner than I wanted to.’

So I had to leave Groningen much sooner than I wanted.

Her summer vacation was also usurped by training camps, so they would be able to shine at the European championship. ‘Veronique and I figured that over the past year, we spent at least a fifth of the nights in the same room. And that’s not even counting the weekends in Amsterdam early in the year.’

It hasn’t always been easy, she confesses. Because no matter how well the two got along, after a while they ran out of things to talk about. ‘We did everything together, so at a certain point we didn’t have much to say to each other anymore. All we did was evaluate our performances.’

She also disliked not being able to spend as much time with her parents and dog in Haulerwijk. ‘I tried to come visit once every three weeks, but I always had to go back to Amsterdam the next day.’


Fortunately, her hard work paid off. The highlight so far was the Henley Royal Regatta, a prestigious competition in the English village of Henley-on-Thames. ‘Time has stood still there’, Clevering says, enthusiastically. ‘Women can only attend if their dresses are below the knee and if they’re wearing sun hats. Men have to dress up in jacket and ties.’

It’s all about being seen. All along the the waterline, people were cheering at the rowers whizzing past. ‘We were up against a crew from New York, so the Brits were cheering for us.’

It was Clevering’s first competition with the three women she would also be starting the world championship with. ‘We honestly didn’t expect anything, which is why it felt like such a victory when we were the first to cross the finish line.’

We honestly didn’t expect anything, which is why it felt like such a victory

Their triumph at Henley Royal Regatta meant they immediately became the favourites to win the World Under 23 Championship. And they managed to live up to expectations, winning gold. Next, Clevering joined the Women’s eight and won silver at the European championship and made it to the A finals at the world championship in Florida.


So what’s next?

Clevering has returned to the Netherlands to start her master in Health Sciences at the VU in Amsterdam. She wants to finish the two-year master in a single year, so she can continue rowing and participate in the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. A year ago, she never would have dreamed of this, but now she actually stands a chance.

And after that? She would really like to come back to Groningen to finally do her internship.  ’I think I’m just an eternal student’, Clevering smirks. ‘It will be weird to go back, since everyone I knew before will have been gone by then. But rowing here is just amazing. Especially that moment when you emerge from under the third bridge at the end of the day. It’s so quiet there, and when the light of the setting sun hits it, the Groningen countryside is the most beautiful there is.’



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