"Calls cost me energy. & # 039; "They are just pushing me. & # 039;July 15, 2019
Bronze at the Games. Getting started in business. Perfectionist forever. Former sailor Evi Van Acker and former judoka Heidi Rakels find each other completely in the dunes of De Haan. Or almost.
A paved path leads into the dunes from the Auberge des Rois hotel on the seafront of De Haan. At the end you can choose. To the right a sandy path leads to the dunes and the beach. On the left, it goes downhill to Koninklijke Baan, where the building that Heidi Rakels (51) has formed is located. We leave her the choice. "Go right," she says. "I'll drive by later."
The beach is remarkably quiet this morning. We nestle with our beach chairs in a pan between two dunes. Evi Van Acker (33) has become curious and asks Rakels which building was so important that she wanted to meet here for the interview. Fray's smiles. "The Sea Prevorium," she says. "I was a weak child, had a lot of pneumonia. The doctor advised my parents to go to the mountains with me for a longer period of time. That was unfeasible for the family, so I ended up in the Zeepreventorium, which was then a spa for lung patients. "
"When they brought me here, I thought," Nice, to the sea, vacation! "But it was a traumatic experience. My parents could only come to visit me every two weeks. For a five-year-old girl that was hard. Every time I had to say goodbye, I cried. "
That painful period did lay the foundation for her sports career. "We had to work out constantly: swimming, gymnastics, walking through the sand. All to learn to breathe. But the patients who were already here had already trained and were much better than me. At first I thought that was terrible, but soon I caught up with my peers. Certainly when I went back to school and had to keep moving, I enjoyed it. I have always continued to exercise and never got sick again. "
Then Van Acker's memories of the coast are more positive. "I can still see myself standing on the beach in Duinbergen, behind the flowers I had crafted at home the previous months. We traded them with shells, which we went looking for along the tide line in the morning. My father was a florist. I got the love for flowers from him. "
Rakels also has something to do with flowers, she says. And with waves and wind. She says she started windsurfing after her career, and that she will be sailing with her boyfriend in the US in two weeks. With a catamaran. "My admiration for sailors has only grown. It is a physically demanding and technically demanding sport. You have to take into account the wind, your position, the opponents … "
Van Acker may have stopped for two years, but the love for the water never goes away. She always knows where the wind comes from. "Even now, yes. I checked the dune grass to see in which direction it is moving. "She said it was perfect sailing weather when she arrived on the dike. Immediately afterwards to notice that the sea colors beautifully. It is no coincidence that she has just bought a house in Knokke. "Not with a view of the sea, that was not affordable."
While Van Acker started sailing when she was six, Rakels only started judo at the age of seventeen. "Before that I was a gymnast. Although I could never reach the absolute top due to my size and weight. ”She points to a lump on the instep of her foot, a witness to a major fracture, which left her struggling for two years and looking for a new sport . "It had to be something you didn't have to jump. It has become judo. "
You cannot continue to rely on an Olympic medal.
She made her career so fast in her new sport thanks to the speed, power and agility that she had developed as a gymnast. After a few months, she set herself a goal: to become a world champion. "I just kept that to myself. Having an ambitious goal and achieving it, that is not part of Belgium. "
Rakels builds a bridge to Guardsquare, the company she founded with her boyfriend five years ago. The developer of software that protects apps against hackers is one of the fastest growers in Belgium. "We started very carefully, didn't want to go too fast. But then internet entrepreneur Jurgen Ingels stepped in. He had just sold Clear2Pay for $ 400 million and said laconically: "Guardsquare will get even bigger." We choked. But actually he had the same mindset as I did at the start of my judo career: "You can do that: become a champion." As entrepreneurs, we had never seen that in ourselves. "
Van Acker has also been stimulated by the business community. In addition to her activities as a commentator in sailing competitions, she has been working for Energy Lab, part of the Golazo group, for a year now. "Most of us know us as a coach for professional and recreational athletes, but that makes up only 5 to 10 percent of our activities. The majority of our customers are companies that we assist in developing a health policy for their employees. "
Ageas is Van Ackers largest customer. She draws up the strategy of the corporate wellbeing program for the insurer, makes the budgets and organizes the events. "Fun and challenging. One of our goals is to make employees travel 2 million kilometers together. They can record all their movements on an app, from a marathon to a walk to the bakery. And these weeks we are holding a cycling challenge, where employees in teams of eight to twenty people have to cycle the same number of kilometers every day as the riders cover that day in the Tour de France. "
They both won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games. Van Acker in 2012 in London, Rakels in 1992 in Barcelona. When Rakels hesitantly admits that she has lost the medal, Van Acker bursts out laughing. "Allez, isn't that possible?" You know, you can always come and look at mine. She is safe in a safe. "
It says something about how Rakels looks back on her career. Not really. She has completely left her life behind as an athlete and focuses two hundred percent on her company. For Van Acker the break is fresher: less than two years ago – shortly after the world championship in Medemblik, where she won silver – she suddenly decided to stop as a sailor.
She admits that she sometimes finds it difficult to let go of her sporting past. "In the beginning I clung to it. You almost completely associate your identity with how good you were in sports. I really had to realize that I was standing with my back to the future. And time is precious, I realize. So I really have to let go. I hear from other top athletes that the farewell process takes three to five years. So I may have to go. "
Rakels, motherly: "That is indeed what you have to do: let go completely. Recently, the success of Guardsquare means that I have been interviewed a bit more often and it is soon about my sporting past. But otherwise I will never think about it again. That life is over. I actually like to take new steps from scratch again. You cannot continue to use your Olympic medal. "
Rakels wears a dress with short sleeves and has taken off her shoes. It makes the consequences of her judo career clearly visible. The scars on her shoulders, a result of four operations. And the slightly deformed foot, after that heavy break during gymnastics. He causes her pain every day, she cannot walk far with it.
Do you feel that you have had to miss a lot because of your top sport career?
Jackets: 'Not me. You have also been to a huge number of places in the world, Evi? "
Van Acker: "Yes, but I have not seen anything of it except the fitness room and the water on which I sailed. In fact, I would have to go back again to really discover all those countries. At top competitions, such as the Games, you only focus on your performance. Maybe I should have enjoyed a little more about everything around it, yes. "
Jackets: "But I don't mind that focus at all. In the meantime I have learned that the happiest periods in your life are those in which you are extremely focused on a goal. Provided that you also achieve that goal, of course. The British express minister Margaret Thatcher also said it: "Look at a day when you are super satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you've done everything to do and you've done it. "
Van Acker: 'I get that. I should also have enjoyed more of those moments when I achieved my goal. If only for a day. But I was so perfectionistic that I immediately started working on something else. I always kept going. That's how you inflate yourself physically and mentally after a while. "
Jackets: "I have learned to enjoy the moment. When we won the Fast Fifty prize as the fastest growing company in Belgium last year, everyone said we had to go much further. But I put it into perspective: "Maybe we will be bankrupt next year, so let's enjoy our success now."
Heidi Rakels (51) won a judoka bronze at the 1992 Olympic Games. During her sports career, she obtained a master's degree in computer science. From 2004 to 2014 she was an independent software developer. In 2014 she founded with her boyfriend Guardsquare op, which makes software to protect mobile apps against hackers. The company books Meanwhile, a turnover of 8 million euros.
Evi Van Acker (33) won bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games as a sailor. During her sports career, she earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a master's degree in bio-engineer. Today she is an independent commentator at sailing competitions, she gives keynote speeches and she works as an account managerat Energy Lab.
Should you have tackled certain things differently?
Rakels and Van Acker: "Yes, masses of things."
Jackets: "Like Evi, I am a perfectionist. If I am doing 98 percent right, I focus on the 2 percent that are not going well. That makes you unhappy. For an athlete that can yield something. Not for a manager. You invest so much time in the last 2 percent that it is no longer profitable. As a manager you have to be careful with that perfectionism. It not only makes you unhappy, it is also inefficient. "
Van Acker: "I am a perfectionist, and that will never change. I always ask the best of myself and of others. At Energy Lab we organize events. But the perfect event does not exist. Forget it. There is always something in the hundred. I really have to learn to be satisfied with good or very good. In sports you are surrounded by people who are also perfectionist, but in business this is not always the case. It is a challenge for me to let that go. "
Jackets: "Top sport is by definition not chaotic. A company is. And events are a disaster in that regard. "
Van Acker: "If I look back, I would rather have been to myself. In the run-up to the Beijing Games, I had an inappropriate training schedule that completely exceeded my limits. With abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea as a result. My father had just died and I was not feeling well. Now they might call that a burnout. As a top athlete you don't know how long your career will last, so you sometimes want too much in the short term. I should have given myself more time and peace sometimes. "
Jackets: 'I recognise that. I still have that anyway. Now that our company has been such a success, it is precisely thanks to the perfectionism of my friend and me. But that same perfectionism is also the reason why I could not enjoy it until recently. At one point my doctor got angry. "Stop that," he said. "If you were now employed, I immediately gave you six weeks of sick leave. You play with your health. "
Does your perfectionism lead to overcrowded working weeks?
Van Acker: "I don't keep up, but I estimate that I work fifty to sixty hours a week."
Jackets: "I didn't keep that up in the past either. But recently, because I have forced myself to work less: only forty hours a week. Or at least I try. Because it got out of hand. I worked too hard. Not only during the week, but also at the weekend. I remember a Saturday morning when I woke up with a to-do list with 32 dots for the weekend. "
Can you imagine that?
Van Acker: (dry) 'Yes.'
Jackets: "Watch out, I often think we are too soft. There is nothing wrong with working too hard for a period of time. But – and I learned that from my doctor – if you do that for five years at a time, you will get into trouble. Certainly if there are often tasks in between that you actually don't like doing, which was the case with me as CEO. Since the beginning of this year I am no longer CEO but chairman of the company, so now it is better than expected. "
I should have enjoyed more moments when I reached my goal, even if it was just a day.
It's noon. The sun starts to burn. Rakels and Van Acker cannot be stopped. They talk about athletes they know, about new therapies at the physiotherapist, about relationships in sport. "Amai, that we are so the same. Wouldn't we postpone the lunch reservation to the evening? "Van Acker asks laughing.
We don't do that. We walk back through the sand to the terrace of Auberge des Rois. Rakels orders sole with fries, Van Acker tomate crevettes. "I started exercising this morning at six," she says as if she has to answer.
As top athletes, they have always pushed the limits, also in their weight. Scraps of moisture initially in the -78 weight class. But because coach Jean-Marie De Decker there more believed in Ulla Werbrouck, she suddenly had to participate in the -66 category. Rakels had to lose 11 kilos in a short time. "That was tough, yes. Apparently you also become mentally unstable if you have less than 12 percent fat. I often cried then. Once it just happened when I was knocked out for training, while all BOIC people were visiting. It was just before the Games, and those people looked at me with eyes in which you could read: "That won't work with her." Somewhere that was good. I was ashamed of course. But at the same time I thought: "Wait, the medals are awarded at the Games." That just gave me extra strength. "
Van Acker often had to recover. "Certainly on a course with heavy weather you need enough weight to keep the boat in balance," she says. "In locations where little wind was expected, you were not allowed to weigh too much. And so my weight always had to fluctuate, within a margin of 6 kilograms. That is not comparable to what Heidi had to do, but weight has been a constant concern ever since. I still stand on the scales twice a day. "
According to Rakels, more than half of the judokas have eating disorders. She also had them. "Your diet is so unbalanced that you will never get rid of it. Your normal eating rhythm is disrupted. I notice that in small things. If someone treats me with ice cream at work, it's hard for me to restrain myself. "
As a top athlete, are you not too strict on your body even after your career? Van Acker: "That was not too bad for me. I was away 250 days a year, more than ten years in a row. In addition, I denied almost everything. Two weeks after I stopped, I ate a pita for the first time in my life. Suddenly a new world opened up. I joined a wine club and went out for the first time until five, imagine. In the beginning I started exercising six times a week because I really didn't want to let myself go. But of course that won't last. "
Rakels is still struggling with her weight. "If you've dieted too often, your body will say at a certain point: I don't want to lose weight anymore. That is why I gained a lot after my career, also because of the stress at work. That weight had to be removed. "And so she has just lost 16 kilos, with the Pronokal diet from Bart De Wever.
"You lose a lot with that. But there is still great uncertainty about whether such a diet without carbohydrates is healthy in the long term, "says Van Acker. "Your brain and nerve cells need glucose – so carbohydrates – to work properly. And as compensation you eat more proteins and fats, so that your liver produces more toxic substances. We do not yet know the long-term effects of that either. "
Van Acker knows what she is talking about. During her sports career, she graduated as a bio-engineer specializing in food sciences. With great distinction, yes. "The perfectionist in me made me want to be the best there too. It was not an option not to make it. If I start something, I have to finish it, and preferably as well as possible. "
Rakels also combined her sports career with a study. She graduated as a civil engineer. Also with great distinction? "For my exams it is. But my thesis was very bad because I just had a shoulder operation. That made sense, "she says. "I was very good at math. And it was my favorite subject. Everyone said that I had to study civil engineering. But then you suddenly get lessons in that direction about pumps, compressors, cooling machines and aerodynamics. That didn't interest me at all. In retrospect, I would have preferred to study mathematics, or computer science. Programming – also a subject in civil engineering training – was what I liked the most. "
The transition from the sports world to the business world did not happen automatically for Rakels. "When I quit judo, I applied as an IT specialist. But no cat believed that as an ex-top athlete I could sit behind a desk for eight hours a day. They pushed me in the direction of sales. While I just wanted to program. "
It was also a search for Van Acker. "People had a hard time not having a clear plan for my post-sport career. Everyone in my area did have an idea: "Evi, you have to do this. Evi, you have to do that. "I just wanted to find my own way, and rediscover myself. That's why I followed career coaching with someone who didn't know me. "
It was also getting used to freedom. "As a top athlete, your agenda is strictly planned. On January 1 you know what the next four years will look like. European Championships, World Championships, the Games, the selection moments, the training sessions, the destinations, it is all fixed. When that fell away, I found it frightening. Friends said that I was in a luxury position, that I was young and could do what I wanted. Go on a trip and everything. But it was hard for me. I just wanted to know what to do the next day. You wonder if the best of your life is not over yet. So you have to set new goals. That is challenging. Do I have the right skills? Am I going to achieve the same as my friends, who now have a great job or own a business? "
Rakels says that she had to stamp when she stopped judo. "I found that humiliating. I was unemployed from one day to the next. For years you had overly focused on a higher goal, and suddenly it felt like you were being punished for it. I learned a new programming language during that period, after which I started working as an independent computer scientist. "
Afterwards, she and her friend founded Guardsquare, which grew rapidly when it turned out that their software could protect mobile apps on Android and iOS against hackers. Today the company generates a turnover of 8 million euros. And recently it got a boost with the entry of the US fund Battery Ventures for 29 million euros.
Apparently you also become mentally unstable if you have less than 12 percent fat. I often had to cry back then.
Van Acker listens enthusiastically to the growth story. Will she ever start a business? "I have a lot of energy and I am entrepreneurial. But would it be wise for me as a person? I still lack confidence. And I am perhaps too perfectionistic. I would constantly worry. I would be awake too many things too. No, I am not ready. "
"I think you never are," says Rakels. "As an entrepreneur you have the advantage that you have enormous freedom. And a responsibility. You learn a lot. Things that you have always thought you can't do. You learn a lot in Belgium from companies that are further away. For us, that is the Collibra data company. Tomorrow we have a telephone conference with the founder, Felix Van de Maele, who advises us. With all the problems that we have not been able to solve recently, we can turn to him. "
Collibra is the first Belgian unicorn, a starting company that is worth more than 1 billion euros. Is Guardsquare going in the same direction? "Why would you necessarily want to become a unicorn? As an athlete it is easy to set high goals: it is only about yourself. In a company you work with many people. So you also burden others with a goal that can only be expressed in money. My friend and I remain engineers, and therefore want to make a good product. In the beginning we were extremely risky. That is why it is good that there are now American investors on board. They are more ambitious and want to take more risk. "
Are the differences between sport and business big? Van Acker thinks so. "As an athlete you are used to receiving feedback every day, positive and negative. In the business world, people cannot handle criticism. When someone tells me I'm not doing something right, I think, "Ah, okay, now I can do better." But many people think, "Anyway, what does he say now ?!" evaluated than in business. "
Rakels admits that she is difficult to tolerate criticism. "I have been irrational criticized too often in judo, also by my trainers. Since then I always think there is an implicit message when someone makes comments. "
It has become 15 o'clock. With coffee and tea, the two still discover an essential point of difference. When Rakels says that she was seen as a loner during her sports career, the two begin to compare their scores on a personality test. Decision: Rakels is introvert, Van Acker extrovert.
"I really like this conversation, but it costs me energy," says Rakels. "So I will drive home exhausted. And for the rest of the day I may not talk to anyone anymore. My friend is just like that. We are real computer nerds, yes. You can see that in our company too. Normally only 30 percent of the population is introverted, in our workplace that is more than 50 percent. "
"That is the first big difference between us," says Van Acker. "I just get my energy from conversations. They are pushing me forward. Although I sometimes found my life in sports easier than my life now. I can also be exhausted. Sometimes I'm just a master of hiding it. But this meeting gives me energy. "
Fails laughs. 'Me too. Good to know that there are still perfectionist souls in the world. And once again with the nose to be pressed on the facts: we are too strict for ourselves. "
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