12 Mar, 2015

Raking In The Medals


South Africa’s track sensation, 26-year-old Maroesjka Matthee’s earliest cycling memory was when she stood on Suikerbossie cheering her father who she was sure would win that year’s Argus. She was five years old at the time. She agreed to give us a glimpse of her life.

I started cycling as any other normal kid, just riding my bike with my friends around the neighbourhood.

I was pretty much the “Tom boy”. I was into anything that the boys were into – from playing cricket, rugby, roller blades to skateboarding. Nothing was too dangerous for me.

I grew up in a house with two sisters, myself being the youngest and the sportiest. I definitely went through the “Barbie doll” phase, but fortunately that was short lived.

I was always more the adventurous type. I think when I got to an age where I wanted to do more sporty things, my dad was pretty amped. Being the father of three daughters is probably not the easiest of tasks in the world. I would imagine I brought some sort of “sanity” to “his” oestrogen-powered world.

He tried to get my sisters and I into bike riding. As I was the youngest, I was last in line. My sisters never really took to the idea of riding bikes, but when my turn came around, I loved it!

I did my first “Sanlam Fietstoer” when I was seven. I think it was 15 kilometres or so. Just for the fun and it being a family outing.  I was never really pushed into riding/racing bikes.

Only when I was 18 at the SA Track Championships, I told my parents that this is something that I want to do more and start training properly for.

My dad took me to an international track meeting at the Bellville Velodrome. They called it the tri-nations. South Africa, Australia and Germany. When I saw those chicks riding, I was like “hell yeah, I’m doing this”. It looked so fast and fierce!

I grew up in Kuilsrivier, Cape Town. Born, raised and still living in Cape Town. I went to Mikro pre-primary school in Kuilsrivier.  I was quite the track and field athlete at primary school. I remember the boys didn’t want to run against me, because they were scared they would get beaten by a girl. I was pretty fast.

From Mikro, my parents decided that they will try a bit of different schooling for us. We went onto a private Christian school in Kuilsrivier. The school started out with 20 kids and I think it ended with 200 kids. It was something new – an international syllabus, getting taught in English was quite something new, but I enjoyed it. My mom was helping out at the school as well. After a couple of years, she decided to home school us. We were then home schooled for the rest of our schooling.

After school, I took one year off to ride my bike. That was a bit of a fail, if I must say so myself. I trained quite hard, but maybe not the correct training. I over-trained and that led to Glandular fever the following year. I was out for about six months. It left me with no cycling, no studying, and basically “no anything”. That was a very difficult time for me, here I wanted to put everything into cycling, just for it to get grabbed away from me.

I didn’t really know what to do with my life and what direction my life was going in. I enrolled at Northlink College for a CAD course. I did AutoCAD and 3D drawing. Soon after completing the course, I realized that sitting in front of a computer drawing and drafting for hours on end was not for me.

I wanted a change, but wasn’t sure what. My cycling started to pick up again and I focused on that. I started studying Physiology and Anatomy, Sports Massaging and Holistic. I qualified as a Sports therapist. My decision to do that, was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I started working at BodyandBike (where I still work). They have been so good for me and continue to support my dream 100%.

Working and training at a good level is not easy. You get up before the roosters to go train, and depending on your program, you have to go train in the evening again. For a professional athlete that is what you to do. In my case, (and in any other working class) you have to work in between, making your recovery time for your next session very difficult.

I was really lucky when I met Theuns van der Bank (my other half). We share the same passion. Riding and racing our bikes at a high level, but also juggling work.

Theuns is a school teacher. Although I envy him when school holiday time comes along, he works hard without a flexible schedule. Whereas in my case, I have a more flexible schedule. For the two of us, there’s not much more than riding our bikes and working. For any other relationship this would mean total doom, but we’re really lucky in sharing this passion.

We have two wonderful dogs, who keep us busy at home.  A Labrador – Vida (yes, she is named after a chain of coffee shops, we are some serious coffee drinkers). We also have a black Pekinese named Olive.

If I wasn’t a cyclist I would be a Rockstar! – haha, no I’m just kidding.  I think I’d be surfer or any other sports person.

I went to the Africa Continental champs with really high hopes. The track and Pietermaritzburg brought back memories from SA Champs 2012. Not all good to start out with... just short of 10 days before the Champs, I crashed in training behind the motor bike at about 50 kilometres per hour.

It was a pretty hard fall with a lot of “roasties” and pain. I went to the hospital to get checked out. They did the normal routine checks, X-rays, CT scans etc. They didn’t pick up anything that was broken. Six weeks later it was confirmed that I had a fractured pelvis.

Nationals for me was done on painkillers and “regmakers” (to stay awake from the painkillers). When I got to Pietermaritzburg again, all those emotions came streaming back and I was feeling so overwhelmed. I tried to keep positive and think of the good stuff that the Champs gave me. I got six gold medals. I pulled myself together and was feeling very confident.

I didn’t really know what to expect from our African competition. It was the first time in over four years I went into a track race not knowing all of my competitors’ ins and outs. It was quite daunting, I must admit.

In the Scratch race, I remember thinking to myself that this African Champs would be good. The girls from the other countries gave quite a fight. I managed to win the Scratch, the first individual win of the Championships. Crossing that line first was a huge sigh of relief and I believed that I would have a great champs.

My main goal was to win the Omnium. The Omnium is made up of six events: the Scratch race, the 3000 metre Individual Pursuit, the Elimination race, the 500 metre time trial, the Flying lap and lastly and CERTAINLY the hardest, the Points race.

I managed to take the Gold in the Omnium. These Continental Championships gave Africa so much of a boost. We gained so many UCI points. Every single athlete racing, or wanting to race at the highest level, is after UCI points to move them up the ranking to get selected to take part in World Cups and ultimately World Champs.

In the Continental Champs, I won five gold medals. I won the 4000 metre Team Pursuit, the Scratch race, the Individual Pursuit, the Omnium, and Points race. At the time of winning these events, I knew of the valuable UCI points that I would get, but only two days after the Champs, I realized how much value it actually gave me.

It qualified me for the Points and Scratch race at the 2015 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, which took place at the National Velodrome in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France during February. When my coach phoned me to tell me the news, I burst out laughing. I didn’t really understand my emotions at the time. Happy – because I get to represent South Africa at World ‘freaking’ Champs, or angry because it was two weeks away. It took some time to sink in – although in saying this, I think that I am still busy processing it.

So for me winning Continental champs was huge! I’m really glad I pulled it off.

I’ll be doing more road racing this year and I want to win some of our big road races. I know that will help me a lot for track as well. I would like to defend my titles at the South African Track Championships and also go for the SA record in the 3000 metre Individual Pursuit. The record will have to be set on a wooden track, so I will target an international event to go for that.

My advice for any young cyclist? Never, ever give up! Life hands us so many setbacks. The beauty about setbacks is, when you get through them, you are a lot stronger. It creates character and moulds personalities.

Work very hard! Nothing comes easy. Always beat the odds! Stay humble, there’s nothing uglier than a professional athlete who is arrogant and thinks they’re better than the rest.

Thanks to everybody for the support throughout my year’s cycling and continue to support me. I look forward to landing some good results in 2015.