Jelle van Gorkom is a Supercross BMX professional and was world ranked first place. His journey was not always easy. Being in a coma after a horror crash he almost gave up on his dream and true passion. The feeling of failure made Jelle learn from the process to use that to come back stronger and rise to the next level: the Olympic games in Rio 2016.
secret to success
"The mind is the most strongest weapon an athlete has, we just need to learn how to use it!"
How did you get started and passionate about your sport?
It was love at first sight! In the neighborhood where I grew up a lot of kids where always playing outside and I naturally followed them. One of the things they did was riding small bikes with self-made jumps and somehow I could ride a bike at a very young age. The jumps they made were too big so they made smaller jumps for me and we all had a good time. Someday I went to a local BMX club when I was 4 years old and never left.
How do you balance striving to the top with your personal life?
I can guarantee you that it is always a challenge. When I was about 16 this was difficult, because I had to choose between going to a race and spend the night in bed or go out with friends. I was lucky they always understood my situation, so they accepted it. This made it a lot easier for me to chose for my sport. Right now everything in my life is about me as an athlete. If it doesn’t fit my schedule I don’t go there and I stay home. This is not always easy, but you have to do what is in your best interest. A pretty selfish life and not always as glamorous as a lot of people think.
When did you decide your sport was more than just a hobby?
As a kid I think fun and being surrounded by your friends is one of the most important things. So that’s what this was for me. I had won several national, international challenge (youth) races and championships and people noticed I had talent. The turning point was at the age of 16. I started to work with a coach/trainer and he made me train more specific, smart and efficient. When I was 18 I became PRO.
"My decisions are based on what my feelings tell me to, never fear or worry what path you choose"
What were the obstacles you had to overcome?
The obstacles are mainly injuries or no results after a tough season. When you don’t get the proof you are on the right path, you start doubting your own capabilities and it's hard to keep your head straight! Mentally this is something you have to train and develop. The toughest obstacle was the period after the 2012 Olympics. The years leading up to this games I was in the shape of my life and ready for what was coming. Then I crashed hard, ended up laying in the hospital at the Intensive Care in an induced coma and on a ventilator for a week. I felt like my life goal was slipping through my fingers. I raced at the Olympics in 2012 but I wasn’t in a good shape and definitely not good enough for a medal. The period after the games was one of the toughest months for me as an athlete. I even thought about quitting, because it felt I failed big time. I let myself down, but my family, friends and everybody always believed in me.
What were your biggest fears and worries choosing for your passion?
Honestly, I never had fears or second thoughts. My decisions are based on what my feelings tell me to. If you do that, you should never fear or worry about what path you choose!
How do you handle failure, rejection and disappointment?
This is maybe one of the hardest things in life in general. I always try to put it back in something that is positive, because there is always something positive to look at. Try to focus on the things you can control and not on what you can’t control! Use it as your motivation to strive to be better than the best you!
"Try to focus on the things you can control and not on what you can't control"
What were the sacrifices you’ve made to be where you are today?
I left home at a young age to live at the Olympic training center. Spending the most of my youth training, instead of doing what kids do at that age. I still have to say 'no' many times, because I simply can’t come or I'm too tired after a long training week. While I'm going to bed at 9.30pm and knowing everybody of my friends/family is partying and having fun. At the end it is all worth it, they say.
What is the greatest lesson you learned on your journey to the top?
This is a really difficult question. Most of the time you realize this after your career and I’m still in the middle of mine. Sometimes it's good to do 1 step back to be able to do 2 steps forward. I also believe in the mental aspect, I think the mind is the most strongest weapon an athlete has, we just need to learn how to use it!
What does success mean to you?
For me success is when you set goals, make a plan and achieve them. It's not always the goal, it's also the process towards the outcome. The things you learn can be crucial in the process. You have to use that to set the next goal and set it higher to eventually rise to the next level.
"don’t look back if you want to keep moving forward!"
How do you stay motivated and what drives you to do better?
Motivation is something what comes naturally. You feel something in the lower area of your belly which is hard to explain, but is an awesome feeling. This is what drives you to do better. It's something you have to have as an athlete, because this is what makes you work harder than anyone else. It gives you confidence and in the end will make you successful.
If you had the chance to go back in time and talk yourself through the hardest part of your journey what would you say to yourself?
Keep believing in the person you are and your capabilities. Don’t listen to the criticizers and follow your on path. Maybe the best advice ever: don’t look back if you want to keep moving forward.
What is your greatest strength?
To have a switch I can turn 'on' when it really matters. When I commit to something I work extremely hard to get the maximum outcome.
When have you felt the biggest adrenaline rush?
This must have been in 2013, after the World Cup win in front of my home crowd, at my home track, with a lot of family, friends and my girlfriend. This was exactly 1 year after my horror crash in 2012. I came back to the top at the pro level and found my name on top of the World Ranking. 1st place Jelle van Gorkom (Netherlands). That meant a lot to me. My body was natural high, energized and it felt I was flying for weeks!
What is your favorite quote?
“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you’d better be running” and why? Because I am glad I have a bike to ride.
What are your core values in life?
Live the life you love, with the ones you love and do whatever makes you happy. Stay healthy and follow your dreams!
Who has been your greatest influence?
The people that raised me, my parents. They gave me the tools to survive. They learned me to be who I am and appreciate the little things in life!
"Exactly one year after my horror crash in 2012 I came back to the top at the pro level and found my name at the world ranking: 1st place Jelle van Gorkom"
The Olympics is known for olympism. The period of physical training was important in developing as a leader. Do you share that philosophy of life?
I do, you have different ways to look at this. I believe that you can have talent, but at some point talent also has to work hard to keep developing. To become a leader or a champion you have to work hard.
How does your eating regime look like as an Olympic athlete?
Eating wisely is important to give your body the fuel it needs. We focus on protein more than carbs and during the day we try to stay hydrated to keep the body in good condition.
What makes you a true Predator?
My determination, my passion and the will to be the best. I hate losing, if it’s a race or a simple game with friends or family, I just can't stand the feeling of losing!
Every athlete has different goals, leading to different training. How do you prepare for the games?
That’s true, basically the 4 years leading up towards the games you try to build a strong foundation. How does this look like in a weekly program? It includes:
- 3 gym sessions where we train our maximum strength
- 3 skill sessions on the bike
- 3 other physical session which could be sprints trainings, plyometric training sessions or core exercises.