‘It takes hard work, but I am living my dream’

| Rense Kuipers

Waking up, eating, cycling, eating, resting, cycling, eating, studying and sleeping. That is what the average day looks like for Gosse van der Meer, professional cyclo-cross rider and Spatial Engineering master's student at the ITC faculty.

Photo by: RIKKERT HARINK

If it hadn't been for the pandemic, Gosse van der Meer (25) probably would not have been a UT student. Whereas the crisis closed a lot of doors for most students, it actually opened one for Van der Meer. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Geography, Planning and Environment from Radboud University last year. The corona crisis also meant many cycling competitions had to be cancelled. ‘Precisely because so much education was made available online, I began looking at master's programmes. I found one to my liking here in Enschede. The crisis has given me a lot more flexibility. That is good, because I still have to train for about twenty-five hours a week.’

It should be clear: Van der Meer's student life is not like that of the average student. His sports career takes precedence. ‘I am only doing this for fun,’ he says repeatedly. ‘Still,’ he hastens to add, ‘I passed all my master's subjects the first time around.’ An introduction? Never been to one. A student card? He doesn't have one. The ITC building? Only stepped inside a few times so far. ‘My life is the polar opposite of that of my fellow students, especially at ITC. Many of them have a scholarship, they are living far away from home... The pressure is on for them. I have none of that, I am only doing this to satisfy a personal interest. I would go crazy if my entire life revolved around cycling.’

Maps

During his bachelor's, he developed a passion for cartography. ‘I always loved drawing maps. Programming, too. I can lose myself for hours on end in GIS software. I absolutely love it.’ Yet Van der Meer knows that studying for top athletes is about making compromises. When you focus on one, the other has to be put on the back burner. ‘I make clear agreements with the people in my programme and I have my own personal study plan. I am an outspoken student and I know exactly what I want. That also means I have to be self-reliant and bring enough discipline to the table. When working on projects in a group, I cannot hang my fellow students out to dry. I do my part late in the evening, though.’

‘I'd rather have more fun and less money than vice versa’

The life of a top athlete can be a lonely one. That is doubly true for the UT student, the only cyclist in his team. A few years ago, he was part of a team of mostly road cyclists as a cyclo-cross rider and mountain biker. ‘Those guys knew every street and every cobblestone in Flanders. Lining up at the same starting line in some forsaken little town year in and year out just wasn't for me. I much prefer to travel the world, instead of racing through the same Belgian mud over and over again.’ This free-spirited lifestyle suits him far better. He makes his own plans with his own group of sponsors and his own team. ‘I knew early on that I will never win multiple world championship titles. It has always been my goal to win a professional competition. I would much rather be a good B-level rider than a faceless nobody in the highest league. I'd rather have more fun and less money than vice versa.’

All around the world

Thus far, that attitude has worked out well for him. Organisations from all over the world - from Australia to Switzerland and from the United States to Mongolia - are reaching out to him. ‘I've been everywhere. In Romania, where I was taking part in a race across a landfill, I was asked to come a day early to train with the local youths. I jump at chances like that. It is all about your attitude. I don't want people to look up to me, but I am not blind to the fact that mine is a privileged position. I want to use that to help others. It takes hard work and I spend much of my time alone, but I am living my dream. I can do whatever I want.’

He is glad to be able to combine his sports career with his studies. ‘It helps me broaden my perspective on the world. I am always riding on some mountain or other and I am truly fascinated by the engineering aspects of my studies. That's why I am interested in rescue operations. One time while mountain biking, during an incredibly long descent, I saw brake marks leading up to the edge of a cliff. Together with five others, I got off my bike to search. In mountain biking, your behaviour is more important than your results. Especially in situations like that.’

He has already fulfilled his youthful dream of winning a professional competition - three times, in fact. On top of that, he has won seventy other events. In the years to come, Van der Meer hopes to obtain even more victories, preferably in incredibly remote locations. Another free tip for his fellow students for the world of cycling: ‘If you did everything you could and still come in second, that simply means the other person was better. However, if you are the one who messed up, you have only yourself to blame. In that sense, taking an exam is no different than competing in a race, is it?’