Twins and a natural change of focus for Leana de Jager
01 January 1970
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Hello and welcome to our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks for downloading, it’s great that you take the time to do so. I’m Gerald de Kock and we’re talking mountain biking as ever. Meeting the people, going to events, finding out what makes this sport great, what makes it tick. I think the people make it tick, the passion the people have for the sport that make it tick.
What we’re doing today is talking to a personality, someone who rode at the highest level and then took a break for probably a year and a half out of the sport. Leana de Jager took a break to start a family, had twins. She’s back on the bike six months after they were born and riding her first big stage race. We’re halfway through that race, how is the body coping?
Leana de Jager: Gerald, it was a shock to be back, but it’s getting better every day. I think my body is remembering how it feels to race.
GDK: Where did racing bike start with you?
LDJ: I used to be a runner, so I had lots of injuries. Then I started to train with people that cycled and just developed a real passion for the sport.
GDK: Mountain biking particularly?
LDJ: No, I started on the road, I was very afraid of anything technical. On all single track I was pushing my bike, so I never thought I would mountain bike. But I got an opportunity and yes, I started and I think the nice thing about mountain biking is that you always have to work on skills or something. There’s always something you can do better.
Keeping going through my pregnancy
GDK: Coming back into the sport now, are all those things, have they come back to you or you’re going back and trying to refresh?
LDJ: I think it’s quite interesting how your body remembers. I remember, I’ve been training throughout my pregnancy, literally the day before I was still on the indoor trainer. Catherine Williamson, who I’m partnering at the moment, she made my bike, I’ve got this big stem that was sitting straight up. So I’ve been keeping fit through my pregnancy, obviously the indoor trainer. So the first ride being outside, being in nature in Stellenbosch, I had goose-bumps, it was just so nice.
GDK: Okay, these are aspects that perhaps as a man I’m not going to fully comprehend, but you rode through your pregnancy. Was there a time where you thought, oh, I can’t do this, should I be?
LDJ: No, there was no time like that. I think for me, mentally, I needed to do that and I also found I felt much better. I had a real hard pregnancy in terms of suffering from nausea. But every time, even if I just did a little, for me it was an accomplishment. Every day and especially to see the babies were healthy and I felt healthy and so my husband totally encouraged me to do it.
GDK: You were a semi-professional athlete when you fell pregnant, so it might not apply to everyone in terms of what they should be doing. But would you encourage even those who don’t ride as much as you do, to indulge in the exercise and continue on?
LDJ: Definitely, I don’t think you must start necessarily an exercise programme. If you’re unfit, then start with exercising, you can walk and do stuff like that. But definitely, if you are fit when you fall pregnant, there’s no need to stop. My doctor also told me, there’s no risk. I won’t speak for all obviously.
GDK: Not long before you fell pregnant you had a fairly nasty crash, I think it was in joBerg2c, hit an ant hill?
LDJ: Actually, riding behind my current partner for this event. So I think it’s like falling off a horse, you just have to climb back on and trust that I’m not going to be steered into another ant hill.
GDK: It wasn’t nice, are those sort of things, do they set you back at all? Do you go back to that or just put it to the back of your mind?
LDJ: I put it to the back of my mind. I think for me, what I really love about this sport is the people. So even in joBerg2c after the crash, it was just nice to be part and the people still made me feel part of the event and you will also know.
GDK: It’s a special community isn’t it?
LDJ: Definitely, like I told you earlier today, it feels like coming home in a sense.
The impact of having a family
GDK: You’ve now got a family, so responsibilities are slightly different, you’re riding, you’ve got your family, are you working at all?
LDJ: No, I’m now a full-time mom.
GDK: You’re obviously going to carry on riding, how do you think it will impact your riding, having a family?
LDJ: I don’t have that much time to train anymore. But I do feel the quality of my training, I’m trying to do more essential training. Not just filling up volumes of time, but also the trade-off.
I often have to make the trade-off, will I train or will I spend time with my family? I just know, family is so special and usually I chose my family, I try to and I’m never disappointed. Sport is wonderful and it’s a privilege to ride and to be healthy, but nothing compares to having a family and a marriage.
GDK: You’re right and I suppose at some stage it will all, there’ll be opportunity to do it all together. I’ve seen you race and you race, has that changed. That go as deep as you can, I really want to go as hard as I possibly can, will it change?
LDJ: The thing is, to get into that race mode in your head, I forgot how it feels. Today, sometimes I’m touching it and then I’m like, oh yes, that’s how it feels and it’s really hard. I think that won’t change, if it comes back, I think I just need to start racing more often again. I really didn’t race at all until this race.
GDK: Therein comes that battle then. You want to race more now, but family commitments. So are you going to be very selective about what you ride?
LDJ: I think so. I was thinking about it and I think I will rather be more selective.
GDK: You’ve got the Cape Pioneer Trek under your belt now, any other plans or ambitions from here on?
LDJ: At the moment I’m looking for support, which I don’t have anymore, so I always feel I should just continue and continue and doors open as I continue. So hopefully there is a prospect for another stage race soon.
GDK: You were involved in that Sasol setup with a mixed team, a woman’s team, it was really good for women’s mountain biking wasn’t it?
LDJ: Absolutely, what Sasol did for women’s mountain biking, even with the Epic sponsorship and the prize money, you can see how many good riders are coming to the table now.
Women ride just as hard as the men
GDK: Therein is a thing, the women fields are still not as deep as perhaps we’d like them to be in South Africa. It’s fantastic that you’ve chosen to come back to the sport because we’ve seen some women who have decided not to and that’s fair enough. What needs to happen?
LDJ: I think it’s nice if people start to see women cycling on the same level as the men. We go much slower, but we work just as hard as the men, we suffer just as hard. I think if people would just help us in terms of getting us on our bikes.
GDK: Is there another Epic in you?
LDJ: Definitely, I love Epic, I love Epic! The event itself as well, but Epic is also about the training for the Epic and it’s just part of a lifestyle.
GDK: Are you one who needs a goal, to prepare, do you feel you need to have an Epic or something?
LDJ: It’s good to have, even if it’s a small goal, or a big goal. I think it’s good to have a goal to work towards.
GDK: If you were to choose now what your ultimate goal would be, if you were to sit back and someone would say, you could go up to someone and say: I would like to ride or win or do this in my mountain biking career, what would it be?
LDJ: I always felt I want to reach my fullest potential, but I had to sit down and really find my fullest potential and for me to reach my fullest potential I have to be a good mom. I have to be a good cyclist and a good wife. So for me, if I can find a good balance between that, that will be my fullest potential. That is my goal.
GDK: That’s a fantastic goal, how beautiful.
LDJ: I’m much more growth orientated than goal orientated, so I hope I can grow.
GDK: May your growth grow into wonderful events and whatever you might achieve, that’s fantastic, lovely story. Thanks Leana, good luck with the most important role in your life.
LDJ: Thank you Gerald.
GDK: Those two beautiful twins.
LDJ: Yes, thank you so much.
GDK: Leana de Jager talking to us here about life as a mountain biker and as a mother and as a wife. That’s what ultimately everyone in this world deals with, but not all of us have the great fortune to have discovered the great sport of mountain biking. To have a passion for it like that, which is lovely to hear.
I hope you enjoyed that story, there will be more right here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, similar to that. Some very different as we meet the people and the personalities that make this great sport tick. Until next time, take care. Ride carefully, put that smile on your dial whilst you do so as well, cheers.