Four-time Olympic champion swimmer and a former World record holder
‘The best in me’
It is a privilege to experience the life of a professional swimmer: traveling, meeting new people and being in different cultures. Sports also shape you as a person because the drive, stamina and goal settings are useful in your daily life. For ten years I trained eight hours per day in the USA; this helped in bringing out the best in me and I have reaped the benefits from this lifestyle, in and outside of my career.
Since I was eighteen years old I’ve been among the world’s top ten, but mentally I wasn’t strong enough to be at the very top. Only when I started training better and did everything my coach told me to do, that is when I didn’t lose any more games. This happened when I went to the US and trained under Coach Paul Bergen. I’m very grateful that back then the American swimmer Roque Santos introduced me to this coach, because I’ve really learned a lot about myself. Before, when I missed training sessions, I would be insecure for a game and felt intimidated by my competitors; in a sense, I lost the game before I hit the water. But after I started training better, my mental state changed and so did my success; I believe that a good and positive mental state of mind has 80 percent influence on winning a race.
A black page in my swimming career happened in 1996. With no problem I qualified for the Olympics in Atlanta, but with the same speed I decided not to go because I did not consider myself worthy enough to represent my country. It was truly hard for me to watch the Olympics on TV instead of being there, but at the same time I came to the conclusion that I didn’t finish what I started. Out of every negative thing flows something positive and this experience made me see things in different perspectives. It taught me that if everything would just come easy, that the satisfaction of achieving something wouldn’t be that great. This is why I like to hear about others who start small or from the bottom, without any help from rich parents or good contacts, and worked hard in creating something beautiful. If you follow your passion and know that everything is possible, then eventually you can achieve it, no matter what the circumstances are at the moment.
The most important thing to have in achieving goals is passion. I think everyone experiences a lack of motivation sometimes, especially after some setbacks, but it’s that indescribable passion within that will help you through. Also, you will need people around you to help keep that fire burning. For me, my twin sister has been one of those people who has helped me a lot.
I’m tremendously blessed that I’ve been traveling all around the world because of my swimming career. My first trip was to London and I still remember how excited I was. Up to this day I have that same excitement when I travel.
When I talk to other former athletes, I hear the same thing as what I feel; that it is difficult to find such a great passion again as you had for your sport. But since my retirement I’ve experienced other exciting things, for example: presenting a traveling program on TV, doing fashion shows in Monaco and other modeling gigs. I’m not a model, I consider myself as a swimmer, but being asked for modeling is a great honor and I am glad that I’m still in good shape to do this.
‘Begrudging the other’
I’m delighted to give presentations for companies, because business and sports are so identical in the sense of setting and surpassing goals, coping with setbacks and not begrudging the other’s success. My opinion is that when you envy someone, that you don’t deserve the thing that you envy for yourself. Of course I feel bad when I lose in a race, but I know that I only have myself to blame and that the other person was better, so all the honors should go to the winner.
When I give swim clinics to children it reminds me of how I started when I was young. I was so eager to learn from my coach and as a child I used to look up to a great swimmer called Conny van Bentum and even had a poster of her on the wall. It’s not that I wanted to be like her, but I did want to learn from her. Later on in life, I got the opportunity to see how she prepared for a race and applied some of that to myself. Now, when children look at me as an example, I hope that they are inspired to create and go after their own dreams. But I’m also still open to learn from others and find myself being inspired by children that I teach. You’re never too old to learn.
Clothes are very important to me, even for someone who has been wearing swimsuits during the whole career. I put thought in what I wear for company presentations or other business events, because other people expect that I will show up looking presentable. My choice of business clothes are mostly based on these three words: classy, clean and feminine.
SS Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Ferrie by Studio Popgun
Giovanni Laisina & Mitchell Gray @ The Frontrow