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Interview: Mariske Strauss

We sat down in Cape Town with our SA champion ambassador, rider on the Silverback | OMX pro MTB team, and all round legend Mariske Strauss.

We asked her about her past, travels, future goals and how she keeps the energy so high!

We get some insight into what it takes to be a champion, and how it’s really like living the pro-life.

How would you introduce yourself to the readers in one sentence?

M: Wow, well I am Mariske Strauss, born & bread South African MTB’er racing for SILVERBACK | OMX Mountain bike team aiming to concour the world!

How and when did you get into cycling?

M: I got into cycling thanks to my dad and older brother. Seeing as I was always at the events I was like “I can do that…”, well the bug bit and I’ve loved it ever since. I jumped right into National racing at around age 10.

What is it like to be a professional female cyclist – glamorous or not?

M: Well… a lot of hard work and quite lonely at times, but very rewarding.  To answer truthfully there is a lot of blood sweat and tears that goes on behind the scenes to get to that podium, so in short not always as glamorous as those post-race pictures.

What would you say it takes to be a successful professional cyclist?

M: I’d say this counts for anything you want to be successful in actually. Dedication, hard work and the will to succeed no matter what (this even more so in sport), with sport being so physical and demanding physically mentally and spiritually it is quite important, well for me anyway, to have a good support structure and my faith has been a major factor over the years.

Mariske Strauss by OMX pro MTB team

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

M: Mmm there has been a couple but last year’s 1st place in the ABSA cape epic penultimate day was really special.

You have represented South Africa numerous times internationally, which has been the best trip for you and why?

M: This is a hard one, I have had a couple of hard knocks and a lot of them happened while in SA kit unfortunately.  If I’d have to pick it would probably be at least years World Champs in Australia, this was the first time in a very long time that I was capable of pushing myself and racing hard again, even though it was not the best result it sparked the fire that I thought was gone.

What is it like to travel the world through cycling?

M: Firstly, it is a massive privilege to see the world through my sport, and it has sort of become my normal. Europe & my team that side has become like my 2nd home so it feels strange when I don’t go. That said, as rewarding it is, it’s just as hard to live out of a suitcase for the majority of the season but I love my sport and it makes me very appreciative of my country and home when I get to stay here for off season.

Mariske Strauss by Max Fuchs
Mariske Strauss by Max Fuchs

What would you like to see change in cycling, in South Africa and Internationally?

M: I think we are on a great path so far, but I would like to see south Africa become even more cycling continues and have more dedicated cycling routes (more on the road to connect the awesome MTB trails 😉 )

Other than cycling, what other hobbies or interests do you have? We know you have a BSc in the bag!

M: Yes I do indeed. I am a BSc Sport Scientist, Sport Massage therapist and love playing piano and drawing. Hey I actually sound like a quite well rounded individual!

Do you make use of any sport psychology techniques?

M: Yes, definitely. At an elite level the mental side of things play such a major role, visualization and meditating forms part of my daily rituals.

How do you stay motivated and hungry to be the best you can?

M: I think the love of the game and then just my general nature. I am very motivated and once I set goals for myself I always see it through, and I think this plays a major role in my dedication and will to succeed.

You are known as somewhat of a personality in the MTB circuit in South Africa, how do you keep the continuous “high” going?

M: Well we are all human and to tell you the truth we all have dips. I have had my fair share of them and to say that I am ALWAYS high and happy would be a bit far fetch. The trick is to not let your past dips demoralize and obscure your vision and will to fight.

Mariske Strauss by Robert Ward

What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome to achieve your goals?

M: This would be my injuries… and all the mental and physical challenges that this accompanied for years after the pain subsided.

Do you have any pre-race rituals or things that help you prepare?

M: Of course, as I believe any athlete does. I think as an elite athlete you need to find your own routines and after a while these become rituals to get you mentally in the right headspace and to ensure you are physically ready to push yourself to the max. Mine usually start off with some stretching and foam rolling to wake the body up and tend to past battle scars that still remain ;).

What do you feel is your best characteristic that has enabled you to be successful?

M: My ability to keep pushing on, to keep fighting when the odds are not looking so geared towards my favour. That combined with being able to see the positive/good in almost any situation and doing it with a thankful heart. God is good and believe He works with a plan.

How do you cope with pre-race stress/pressure?

M: This has been a bit of a challenge for me, especially the last couple of years where I have had to deal with a lot of mishaps and injuries. What I have found lately, besides my groove again, is my ”WHY”. Why I do what I do, and a main factor is joy. I’ve made my “why” list and if I have that in mind the rest seems to fall into place.

What are your goals for the future?

M: Olympics and Worlds Cup podium!

What are your plans for life after cycling?

M: Well, I have my BSc Sport Science degree and I am currently working for Science2Sport and a coach and do some lab work for them as well. I would like to take that further and I will possibly still to my Honours (and maybe even PhD!) in Exercise Physiology ;). Who knows where the road will lead me after my cycling career, hopefully with by the grace of the Man upstairs I still have many years ahead cranking my pedals.

Mariske Strauss by Zoon Cronje
Mariske Strauss by Zoon Cronje

Is there anyone you’d like to thank who has helped you achieve your success?

M: Oh wow, this is a massive list… definitely my family, who have played such an instrumental part of my athletic career (veral Mamma & Pappa, ek kan regtig nie genoeg dankie sê nie!). My coach Jeroen, we have been through quite a lot of storms, thanks for helping me keep the boat afloat! The guys at SSISA for pushing me on and off the bike; my friends, Eugene for helping me iron out my mind the last couple of months and lastly my amazing sponsors, without whom I literally would not be able to race my bike.

If you could leave the readers with one thought, what would it be?

M: If there’s one thing I have learned over the years it’s that you are capable of literally anything if you truly believe it in your heart. What you say to yourself and believe at your core is usually true, so decide to be the superhero you are destined to be!

Interview by Matthew de Freitas

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