As we enter a new year, an old chapter closes. In the past four months I've had the time to reflect on what actually happened in Tokyo and what an impact it made on me. The title of this blog, a quote from my dear friend Ellie Robinson, has been in my head ever since she's spoken these words to me the day before my final race in Tokyo, and I'd love to share with you why it means so much to me.
The first couple of days in the Paralympic village, I really had to get used to where I was. Honestly, when we walked into our building and our apartment, it felt boring. It felt empty, especially compared to Rio. All my roomies agreed and we decided to decorate the apartment. And by decorate I mean, completely change the apartment. We used the cardboard beds to make a couch out of it to create a living room, we put the Dutch flag, quotes and more on the walls, including all the cards our friends and family gave us.
It felt cozy, warm, and like home.
In the days heading up to the Opening Ceremony, I had several media requests, including a specific one for the Dutch television. My 'little brother' and I - Rogier Dorsman, S11, basically grew up together as we started at the same swimming club and only live a couple of streets away. We get asked if we want to do an interview on our predictions for the coming 10 days. As I do the interview I hear myself say something I'd never do: telling them my goals for the tournament: 5 medals out of 5 races. In the past years I was always careful telling the media what my goals were. But now that I had told them, I knew there was no way back and the pressure was there. That's fine, I thought. I'm gonna have to deal with it and prove something.
Time to kick off racing
Tokyo Aquatics Center, 25th of August, 2021. It's time for my first event, the 50m freestyle. This event has always been my favorite after the 100m breaststroke, but this time I know it's gonna be a tight one. In December 2020, I broke the European record, only 0,02 off the world record. Because of covid, I have no idea how fast all of the other S10 ladies are. Aur (élie, CAN) is always unpredictable - I love you Aur but damn, I never knew what to expect from you lol. There's also this new girl from Russia, we've all never heard of her and we all know how the Russians are: even more unpredictable.
My heat swim is terrible and I feel insecure. I get to analyze my race with coach and he tells me what went wrong. Eventually, in the finals, I manage to improve myself massively compared to the heats, and take home the silver. Even though it was only 0,04sec away from gold, I never had the feeling that I've 'lost' the gold in that race. The Russian wins gold and breaks my European record by 0,01. The 3 fastest times ever swum in the 50 free S10? 27,37 (Aurelie Rivard, CAN) - 27,38 (Anastasiia Gontar, RUS) - and myself on a solid no. 3 with 27,39. I mean, if someone is ever gonna tell me again that Paralympic sports is not competitive, I'm showing them these rankings.
The next day I wake up nervous, but ready. It's time to make up for something that I had failed to do in Rio: win the gold in the 100m breaststroke. I wanted to make a statement in the heats, and broke the WR in the morning. Believe me or not, I was still super nervous going into that final. Yes, also when you're almost 3 seconds ahead of the number two. Just moments before I get to walk to the blocks, I look down at my socks; my roomie didn't make the cut for Tokyo, and gave me socks with our faces on it 'so she'd still be with me'. Let's do this.
It was emotional. To finally win that one medal that was still missing from the collection. But now, I've collected them all. Paralympic gold, silver, bronze medalist. World gold, silver and bronze medalist and European gold, silver and bronze medalist. It really gets to me and makes me realize that yes, hard work does pay off.
The 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly on respectively day 4 and 7 of the Games were exactly what I hoped for. A silver and a European record in the 100m freestyle and a bronze in the 100m butterfly. When I told the media I wanted a medal in every event that I'd race, I knew the 100 fly would be the toughest. That medal was definitely the most amazing bronze I've ever won. Four out of four so far. I won't lie: there were many nights where I was in my bed, sometimes called my boyfriend, and told him 'what if I don't get 5 out of 5, would I be okay with it?' Would I still be happy, satisfied, and everything else? Out of all of the times I thought about it, spoke about it with friends and family, the answer was simple: no. I really wanted to prove that I could do it. I know that when it comes to racing, I'm mentally very strong. And still, that last race, that one last race of my career. It felt like a hard thing to do. The day before the 200IM I meet with Ellie to swap shirts and she tells me about the struggles she's had. She tells me: 'as lovely as medals are, they don't talk to you'. At first I just thought of it as a nice quote. But I never expected that it would mean so much to me. I think of how much fun it was to meet amazing people from all over the world in the past nine years. I think of how much fun we had together and even though we are competitors once we're in the water, most of us share the joy of winning.
The 200IM has never been my favorite event, but I always raced it because it's so challenging. I always had a love-hate relationship with that event. After becoming a world champion in London in 2019, my 200IM felt terrible. I somehow didn't manage to improve, it just never felt like a good race. After the heats in Tokyo Soph Pascoe tells me 'records are there to be broken'. I didn't think much of it, since my PB was still two seconds away from her world record. I know she's right tho.
The joy, fun and laughter we share with the girls shows itself as we're seconds away from our 200IM final and the girls tell me 'have fun', knowing it would be my last race on the international stage. After two full years of not feeling great in the 200IM, I jump in the water for my final race. I never had many thoughts during a race, usually just things like 'push' or 'go'. Before I even realized, I touched the wall, turned around to have a look at the scoreboard, and saw that I had won. What do you mean, won? It took quite a few seconds for me to realize what I just did. I won. I broke Soph's world record. It was an emotional way to close off my career. I did it, five medals.
As I stand on the podium, I hear someone yell 'heyyy Chantalle'.
It's Soph. Cheering from the stands :)
After the games
Many things happen when you come home from the Paralympic Games. I took the first two weeks off to do media, it was busy. I didn't have time to sit down and think of everything that had happened. I get to work after those two weeks and start with my new life, my study. It was nice, it was different, I felt comfortable. I met new people, and made some new friends.
But I forgot one thing: to take care of myself.
There's such a thing as a 'post - games - depression'. Some athletes feel terrible. The thing is, you've worked so hard for that one moment. Your whole life you do everything for that one moment. You look forward to that one moment. And just like that, it's all over. All that you worked for, it's over. You're home, your brain is filled with memories. Full of glorious - sometimes sad - moments. Full of what you experienced, in the village, at the venue, in the bus, everywhere. Every moment. And boom, just like that, it's over.
I'm lucky to have people in my life who help me with that, and once again... I think of that quote.
My 'new' life is amazing, and I don't regret the choice that I made. I still swim 2-3, sometimes 4, times a week. Because honestly, the pool still feels like home. The feeling of just you and your thoughts during a swim, the feeling of being one with the water. It never gets old. But these days, I enjoy it. When I'm tired, or I simply don't want to go, I don't. I eat what I want, whenever I want. If I don't want to, I don't get to bed at 10pm. If one of my friends calls me to have lunch in the city, we go. I've gained some weight, I've lost some muscles. But most importantly: I now really get to enjoy every single moment. I still like the way my body looks. Yes, sometimes it's hard. Sometimes I cry. The feeling of winning is a special one, an addictive one. I was an athlete for 9 years. Started at a world championship when I was 12. All I ever did was swimming. But I loved it. Thinking of everything that I got to do and see over the past 9 years, it was amazing. I got to travel the world and got to meet so many amazing people.
Double Paralympic Champion.
Three times world champion.
Five times European champion.
20x international medalist.
From the bottom of my heart.
THANK YOU <3