‘Deux cent mètres… Retour.’ It’s just over 30°C (86°F) outside, but the tiny black rubber spheres on the artificial turf pitch I’m running on heat up the soles of my feet to a temperature that feels like several times that number. My breathing is getting heavier, my legs protest more and more with every step that I take, and the fact that I’m slightly lightheaded tells me I didn’t drink enough water today. Slight consolation: a few girls are walking to my left and right, and judging by their red cheeks and intense frowns they’re struggling as least as much as I am.
The mechanical French women’s voice, which comes from a speaker next to the K.SK. Heist football pitch, informs us every 30 seconds on how far along we are in our so-called ‘Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test’, an endurance test where your only instruction at the start of it is ‘Run until you can’t run anymore. And then, run some more.’ The very first day at my new club was no walk in the park, to say the least.
After a small 6v6 tournament back in May, where I got to play in a Heist jersey for the first time, our season finally officially started last week, with an entire afternoon of physical testing at the club. Measuring, weighing, running, heart rate monitors, everything you can think of. And even though I was painfully confronted with the extra pounds I’d been carrying around my stomach ever since my hamstring injury, I had to pinch myself afterwards.
Because physical testing at the club? A personalized preseason programme? Whether or not I can technically call myself a ‘professional’ football player at this point, these are the exact things I dreamed of, when I decided to change my life four years ago. This is what I’ve been working for all this time.
But okay, it’s easy to have a loud mouth on the internet about how cool it is that dreams actually come true and how excited I am to start fighting for a spot on the starting 11 in the upcoming season, but of course, the truth is a little more complicated than that. After 2.5 years at my ‘safe haven’ in Mol, I’m currently willingly jumping into the deep end, with my hand covering my eyes. I want to perform, I have to perform, but I’m also wary of not putting so much pressure on myself that I can’t handle it anymore, like what happened earlier this year.
That’s why I’m so incredibly grateful that my college, the Avans University of Applied Sciences, has given me the opportunity to combine football with an adjusted third-year programme, in which I will do an internship for not the usual 40, but only 20 hours a week. In eleven days, on the same day that the first team practice at Heist is scheduled, I will start as an intern for Online Zuid, a company specialized in (online) sports journalism for several Dutch newspapers.
Spending my days writing about football, shooting video content, conducting interviews, and in the evenings train and play at a level higher than I ever thought I could reach. If you had asked me two years ago what my ideal life would look like, this description would not have been far from my answer…
A brand new goal
After just under ten minutes running back and forth in the Belgian sun, my tank is empty. Exhausted, I let my body fall onto the burning hot pitch. I can’t take another step. When the test results show up in my e-mail two days later, I bang my fist, gently but frustrated, on the desk in front of me. 1120 metres. 40 metres short of passing the test.
And so, before the new season has even properly started, I already have a brand new goal to achieve. Eleven days until we really kick off. I’m terrified, extremely nervous, and I sometimes still have trouble believing all of this is actually happening, and that I won’t suddenly wake up in shock at some point.
To everyone that has been reading along on my journey in- and outside the white lines of the football pitch: thank you. I hope that I can continue to entertain you in these upcoming months, during the start of this brand new adventure. Because an adventure, that’s definitely what it’s going to be…
Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂