Olympic Champion Maarten van der Weijden can't help but challenge himself. The open water and marathon swimmer won Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008. His famous story began in 2001, when he was diagnosed with Leukemia with a slim chance of survival. Maarten spent six months in the hospital, undergoing tough treatments. He was fortunate to be cured. After a period of recovery, he won gold at the Olympics. After this, he seized the opportunity to dedicate himself to the raising of funds that make cancer research possible.


In 2019, he swam the 11stedentocht. A trip of no less than 195 km, through which he raised a record amount of more than 6 million Euros. Anyone who thought it would stop there is mistaken. Mark interviewed him about his new challenge: the 'home triathlon' on 9 January 2021.

As you're normally busy with your foundation, what do you do now?

'Over the past year, I've actually been averaging about three hours of exercise a day. I used to exercise about seven hours a day. I had gotten a little overweight after a holiday and actually wanted to do more again. Especially the first period was tough, but you just have to get through. The regular exercise made me lose weight and I feel good about this.'

You were actually supposed to go on the road for three months, but because of COVID this didn't happen. What did you think then? I'll go for the triathlon?

'Due to the COVID-virus, the pools closed and I had to do something by myself. So I started running. And then I thought, if I add cycling, then maybe I can do triathlons in the future.

What was also cool, by the way, is that I was contacted by a supplier of flow pools. Normally, he would present his flow pools at triathlon fairs, but these were cancelled. Therefore, he asked if we couldn't put one in my garden. Very luxurious of course. I now swim, walk and cycle 1 hour every day. It's quite a lot, though. I also trained a long time for swimming the 11-city race, but not as consistently as I do now.'

So now you workout in a stationary bath for an hour every day?

Yeah.... I can even adjust the resistance and really mimic an exercise program!

What is it that drives you? Some kind of obsession, right? I mean, I recognize it well....

'Well, I'm really just always working on what could be better. You probably know this too. Before you can go all the way for something, you go through a kind of exploration period that takes a lot of time. What we are now exploring with the foundation, as we have already raised a lot of money through people who swam with us, is how we can also raise funds in another way. After all, many more people run and bike than swim. How many people can we get on their feet, and how can I find a nice challenge in this for myself.'

Look, the 11-city race was such a great success in terms of donated money. You can shake hands, fantastic job done and done. But when things acutally work, I get curious. What else can we do?

What energizes you?

'My family, spending more time at home and being with the family. Walking and playing with my daughters. And we raised so much money. For me, it wasn't about the money, but rather the result of the research. Because in the end, the research we funded led to the discovery of a new salivary gland located deep inside the head. Now that scientists know this gland is there, they can bypass it in treatments where radiation is needed. With the direct effect of helping the cancer patient better.'

So, this is actually the tangible result of the trip and all the money you raised?

Being involved with that and talking to patients who benefit from the treatment, is my driver. That's something we often overlook. I mean, why do you have FIRST? Why do you strive for the highest you can get? Is it because you want gold, or is there more to it than that?""

Yes clearly, you have a very tangible ""why. - that' amazing.
And do you use FIRST?

'Yes, definitely. Sometimes while fasting, I feel so slow in the morning. This doesn't matter that much when my workouts are easy going and focused on stretching duration, but in fast running workouts I do always use FIRST. It brings me on the right pace right away instead of having to work towards it first.

Yes, just that extra boost so you're just a level higher. During your swim, you used it at the end too, right?""

'Sure, I actually wanted to use it again. I was supposed to to row with Mark Slats, who is going to row across the Atlantic Ocean, from Germany to the North Sea. But, due of the COVID measures, that has been postponed. But, if I am going to row for 24 hours, I can certainly use FIRST!

Would you like to support Maarten during his 'home triathlon'? - Check out the website of the Maarten van der Weijden foundation for more information.</

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.