I grew up with bad asthma and a very strong allergy towards animals but my parents work with horses so for my health being home was far from ideal, which is why at the age of 11 I went to boarding school. This boarding school is in the Bavarian mountains and is specialized for the treatment of kids with asthma or other lung diseases, but it also is a performance center for kids that want to pursue a career in winter sports. I was still a soccer player at the time of my arrival, a sport that I fell in love with at the age of 5. But one of the school’s scouts saw me play a lot and after a couple months he approached me and asked if I’d be interested in trying Luge (feet first sliding) or Skeleton (headfirst sliding).
“Because being true to myself, instead of hiding or changing who I am, improved my sport performance.”
Skeleton right away seemed super exciting for me. It is a sport that requires a high level of explosiveness at the start/push but once you dive onto your sled you need to be absolutely calm and 500% focused to steer your way down the track. Every movement, every reaction, can cost you time. The combination of the calm mind and the explosiveness/agression at the start is what makes skeleton special to me. Yet, I must admit that I absolutely hate the cold. If there was skeleton on sand I’d be the first to switch but unfortunately that’s not a thing and I love to slide, so the cold is just a side effect I’m willing to deal with…
There’s no brakes on a skeleton sled so for beginners they simply let you start from a lower start – less speed – and then you work your way up to the top. There’s no simulator for skeleton so besides the theoretical side like trackwalks you really need to learn by doing. My first run I felt like a ping pong ball – hitting every wall I possibly could on my way down but I also was very fascinated by what had just happened. The rush of adrenaline made me go up to the start and do it all over again – till today: 10 years later!
During these 10 years, I became the first Belgian athlete ever to compete at the Olympic Winter Games in Skeleton. In 2017 I ended on the 5th place at the World Championships and in 2020 on the 5th in the European Championships. I ended the 2020/21 season ranked 7th in the World. And this season I just ended up on a World Cup podium with the bronze medal! But I’m most proud of the fact that I introduced Belgium to this amazing sport.
“I decided to join the OFTW Team because I wanted to do more. I’ve always been open about my sexual orientation but with things not getting better (in some European countries even worse) I just felt like that wasn’t quite enough anymore. I want to take on a more active role and be able to really help make things better for the next gen.”
BEING TRUE TO MYSELF
At the age of 18, so when I was doing skeleton for nearly five years, I came out as gay. Because being true to myself, instead of hiding or changing who I am, improved my sport performance. It gives me a sense of freedom that lifts me up and gives me wings. Hiding your true colours takes a lot of energy and I decided to use my energy for my sport instead.
The reactions I received were all very loving and even mainly made of “I knew it”-comments. The only negative comments/experience I had in my career was when I boycotted the World Championships in 2017. They were supposed to take place in Russia, so I posted that I won’t compete in a country that runs a state sponsored doping system and disrespects human rights. As a direct result my social media channels got overflowed by hate and threatsfrom Russian “fans”. Most importantly though: The World Championships effectively got taken away from Russia.
In Skeleton worldwide we are now counting 4,5 members of the rainbow team. This doesn’t seem like much but coming from just ONE (me) 4 years ago, I think it’s great progress! The Skeleton world/family is such a tight group and there really is no place for discrimination of any form. I’m very lucky! In general, I think sports are more open to lesbians but there’s still lots and lots of issues for other LGBTQI+ groups, like gay men or trans athletes. Lots of work needed to be done to make sports more inclusive for everybody.
MAKING THINGS BETTER
Recently I think of Megan Rapinoe as one of the biggest community role models and when it comes to wintersport I’d probably go with Gus Kenworthy, who was ballsy enough to kiss his boyfriend on camera in front of millions of people watching when celebrating his medal at the Olympic Games 2018.
I decided to join the OFTW Team because I wanted to do more. I’ve always been open about my sexual orientation but with things not getting better (in some European countries even worse) I just felt like that wasn’t quite enough anymore. I want to take on a more active role and be able to really help make things better for the next gen. Sport has given me so much, I want lgbtqia+ kids everywhere to feel that kind of friendship, commitment and passion too – I want them to feel like they belong to a team and I want to let them know that being true to yourself and living your own truth is possible in sports. So to young athletes I want to say : « Just be yourself. You are not alone and you’ve got this! Approach people with an open mind and you’ll be surprised by how many allies you will find. »