‘Believe In Your Strength And Focus On Your Goals’
Dutch Paralympic Hand Cyclist Tim De Vries Teaches Us To Find That ‘One Spark Of Positivity’ At The Amsterdam Produce Show And Conference
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 14, 2017
Working in the world of fresh fruits and vegetables is a blessing because it gives us all the opportunity to live on the side of the angels, working to move a product that is not merely enjoyable but genuinely beneficial for individuals and the world at large.
At our events, we always like to have athletes present, partly because the story of healthy living involves both food and fitness, partly because sport is a story of achievement – as Jim McKay on ABC’s Wide World of Sports reminded us “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” — and so inspiring for us all.
And when an individual has had some bad luck, yet has not allowed himself or herself to accept this misfortune as a justification for failing to achieve, we all get the benefit of realizing that our problems are often petty and that, we too, can rise above our difficulties and achieve the things we value in our lives.
Self-pity can be a very destructive emotion, so we found a very inspiring person to meet with attendees and sign autographs while inspiring us to be all we can be. We asked Samina Virani, contributing editor to Pundit sister publication ProduceBusinessUK.com, to help us better understand his story:
Tim De Vries
Paralympic Hand Cyclist
Q: You have won countless gold medals, are known to push all boundaries and deliver amazing performances. Please tell us a little bit about your advice, “believe in your strength and focus on your goals.”
A: In 1997 I got into an accident on the trampoline during practice. The accident was so bad that they had to amputate my left leg through the knee. Ever since then, I have had to keep believing: If you want something, you can achieve it no matter what kind of handicap you have.
Q: It’s truly inspiring and courageous. How did your passion for sport in general begin?
A: It began when I started on the trampoline. I wanted to make it to the Olympics. Then several years after I had my accident, I started hand cycling. My Olympic dream changed into a Paralympic dream.
Q: You are also a motivational speaker with a strong message, “let your physical disability not be a mental limitation.” How did you get into speaking and what do you enjoy the most about it?
A: I started speaking in 2015 when the Tour de France started in The Netherlands. I went to schools to tell children about the tour and also about Paralympic cycling. My message was that even if you have a handicap, you don’t have to quit chasing your dream.
Q: How did the children react to your advice?
A: They all reacted really surprised because of my amputated leg, but were enthusiastic. I also told these kids that they need to be aware of healthy food like vegetables and fruit.
Q: How did the messages tie in between chasing one’s dreams and being aware of healthy food? For example, do you think nutrition has a big part to play in performance as an athlete?
A: I explained that the baseline is to eat healthy food like fruit and vegetables. That’s the start. Furthermore, if you show progress, you can focus on the moments you eat the food.
Q: What do you mean by that? To focus on the moments?
A: Well basically, the rule is to eat fruit and vegetables during the day. The fruit I take in the morning, and the vegetables I take in the afternoon just to have dinner. Then on a certain point like I am now, on a high sport’s level, it’s about taking the fruits at the right moment. You have to have the right amount of carbohydrate and eat at the right moment, so that you can train.
Q: So when you are training you have specific moment for specific types of food.
A: Exactly. When I was younger, my mother gave me breakfast, lunch and dinner. Right now I’m just eating every 2 hours just to get the vitamins and to get all the things I need, and to be not as full as I would be after one big dinner. If I’m full, then I cannot train at maximum capacity. So right now, I take a little bit of vegetables, bread, meat and fruit, during the whole day.
Q: How did you come to this routine or discipline? How do you know what works for you?
A: I have a dietician. I tell her what I’m eating at each moment. She tells me to eat certain kinds of food at certain times of the day. For example, fruit and muesli are good in the morning. After the training, protein is best; no protein before the training. So that’s the kind of way my dietician directs me. Then I start trying it myself, seeing what I like and what is keeping my stomach good.
Q: We are really interested in how nutrition plays a role in performance as an athlete. What you are describing sounds like there is quite an important role in it.
A: Absolutely. Also during the workout, and during the competition, nutrition is so important. I have had some problems in the past when I didn’t have enough carbohydrates and I got hunger pains.
Q: Do you ever adapt your diet according to a specific training you are doing? For example, can you tell us about the high altitude tent you stay in while gearing up for a competition?
A: Yes I’m using a high altitude tent in my house before a world competition. It blows less oxygen in, as if I would be in the mountains. I stay in a high altitude tent because the red cells in my blood produce more in this oxygen level. In this case, it’s important to have iron. What I want to achieve is to have as much oxygen flowing into my muscles at the moment before a big race. Basically, I want to get the maximum capacity out of my muscles. Iron and green vegetables are such an important thing during this high-altitude training.
Q: This is going very deep into the performance level and the influence of nutrition in performance. What advice would you give people in general about how nutrition can help them?
A: In 2015, I was going to talk with kids in several schools in Utrecht where I live, and I was asking them what they eat. What surprised me the most, and I have children of my own, is that many children said they didn’t take breakfast. I was stunned. However, just yesterday, it was on the news that more children are actually having breakfast, so that’s a good development.
I would say don’t go out the door without breakfast, because you need the energy to walk to school or to take the bike to go to school. When you have a good breakfast, the brain starts to work too. It’s all connected.
Q: Do you have any favorite fruits and vegetables?
A: Definitely yes. Every morning I always want to have a banana, and I take three parts of fruit at least: kiwi, banana and mandarins. I also really love pears, and occasionally I take a mango. That’s mainly my breakfast just before training.
Q: Do you cook?
A: Yes. I’m a real Dutch man, so the potatoes are always in the dish. I’m a married man, and I cook for my family Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The main thing for me is beans, string beans, and the short ones you cut into little pieces. Mainly I cook potatoes, the vegetables and a little piece of meat. I don’t’ ever make lasagna. My wife does that but that’s taking a lot more time. I want to do it fast and more simple.
Q: Sounds like a very well balanced meal.
A: Yes that’s important for me and for my children too.
Q: Do you have any favorite restaurants?
A: I don’t go to restaurants often. It is because it is always a specialty restaurant, like meat, or fish, or Mexican for example. What I miss is always the vegetables. They don’t give many vegetables. That’s the reason that I don’t go out for dinner a lot. It’s not that healthy.
Q: So you are more into home cooking, which means you go to the supermarket more perhaps. When you go to the supermarket, do you feel informed about the products?
A: I don’t have to be that much informed because I have my dietician and I know what to take. However, I think a lot of people don’t know the importance of fresh vegetables. When you go into a supermarket, you see all the little cans with preserved fruits and vegetables. Those cans have no vitamins. Yet, I see a lot of people in my neighborhood thinking they are eating healthy by eating what’s in these cans.
Q: In terms of fresh vegetables, do you opt for specific types, such as local or organic?
A: No. I generally just go for what I would like to eat: beetroots, string beans, cauliflower, broccoli.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring athletes?
A: Don’t ever think you are beaten because of a handicap. It’s something you overcome. Sit like you haven’t been beaten.
You asked me about motivational speaking as well. The message that I want to give out there is that if you ever have a negative situation, there is always one spark of positivity in that negativity. The trick is to pick that positive thing out of it and keep on going with the positive. That is what my life is about. Ever since 1997 when I lost my leg, there have been a lot of nice things, but there have been a lot of sad things too. Every time, I try to pick a little bit of positivity out and keep moving on.
I have had a lot of truly inspiring moments because of losing my leg. It’s just a trick to pick that little thing of positivity. It’s not always easy to pick it out when everything can be so negative.
Q: How do you always manifest this then?
A: When I did the road race in Rio last year during the Paralympics, I was in the front. In the end, I came in 9th place because in the last 800 meters I hit a little barrier and I came to the back. I was able to race to the podium still, but I didn’t make it to win. Later someone told me I had a flat tire. I didn’t know that. The positive thing here is that I somehow had the energy to come back, even though I had a flat tire. I am disappointed but that is the little thing that made me move on.
That comes in a split second. That insight.
Q: It’s like the cloud with the silver lining.
A: That is my main message. Keep moving on.
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