Nouchka Fontijn became Dutch boxing champion and won silver and bronze at the Olympics. Last year she hung up her boxing gloves. Now that her life as a top athlete is behind her, the contours of a new career are emerging.
Fontijn does not seem to be bothered by the proverbial, feared black hole that yawns for many ex-top athletes. Before she retired from professional boxing in August 2021, her days were still structured. “My time was divided into subjects. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I boxed twice a day. I didn’t have to be in the water at 6 a.m. like swimming to have the realm to myself. At 10 o’clock in the morning I was alone in the hall for bag training. And in the evenings, when other people also trained, I could spar and play boxing.”
Tuesdays and Thursdays were reserved for strength training. “A heavy workout in the middle of the day and then a light workout or technique. So I had ten training sessions during the week and sometimes a heavy training session at the weekend in Rotterdam or Papendal, depending on the tournament.”
She knows that some exercisers take a nap in between workouts. “But I never managed to do that. Fortunately, I have an energetic dog that I can walk with in between,” she laughs.
New opportunities after boxing
Today her life is much less structured. But Fontijn does not have the feeling that she can get adrift. New opportunities soon presented themselves. “Early last year I was hanging out the laundry when I got a call from interim and consultancy firm Eiffel: ‘We have something nice for you,’ they said.”
Since then, as a talent coach, she shares lessons from top sport, to the employees of Eiffel – which employs more than a thousand lawyers, financials, data specialists and project managers – and to the company’s customers. The collaboration works both ways: with knowledge of talent development, Eiffel guides Fontijn and various other Olympic athletes in their social career. Not a full-time job, but a good basis, Fontijn says about her job. Because while she wasn’t afraid of the black hole, there was the threat of a financial hole. The financial support for living stopped the moment she retired from professional boxing. “As a top athlete with A status, you receive a stipend from the NOC*NSF for ten years. That stops the day you no longer meet the requirements.”
A well-filled agenda
As a talent coach, she provides presentations and clinics for Eiffel for part of the week and is building her own concept with presentations and workouts for companies. She also gives boxing lessons.“It is very diverse and nothing is set in stone. I love that. This year I was able to go on a skiing holiday and shortly afterwards I had booked a house to work on my concept. Sitting with a laptop and thinking about which anecdotes I want to tell people.”
Those stories are linked to the boxing clinics. “It’s not just an hour of sweating. You can get metaphors for life from sports. I want to make things feel that I say.”
From taekwondo to boxing
Fontijn ended up in the boxing gym through taekwondo, which she came into contact with when she was 14 through a friend. She fell in love with the sport and earned a black belt.
“After five years I wanted to get better at taekwondo, so I took up boxing. I didn’t like the first workout at all. I stood among the men with beer bellies, but my arms hurt so I thought: this must be good. I stood out and was asked to compete. I started training five days a week and three months later I had my first competition.”
She was 19 years old at the time. “That seems old, but that is not so bad in Dutch boxing. There is not much in the youth. Abroad, 11-year-old boys already start boxing, but in the Netherlands there are hardly any competitions for young people. If you’re good, you’ll start with the seniors at the bottom.”
Medal after medal
In 2009 Fontijn became Dutch champion. In 2014 she became European champion and won bronze at the world championships. When she would stop was already determined, because that is related to the Olympic cycle. In 2016 Fontijn qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where she won silver. Because the 2020 Games were postponed due to the corona pandemic, she decided to extend her boxing career for a year. She finished with bronze at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
“I thought it was nice then. At the beginning of your career you look forward to training, but later everything changes. I no longer enjoyed it and dreaded it more than I looked forward to it. But you do it for the medals.” Winning makes her happy, she says.
Another source of adrenaline
“I think I will miss that: the adrenaline and the highlights. But I can also do that differently. With Special Forces, for example,” she laughs, referring to the television program Special Forces VIPS, which was shown on Videoland last winter. Fontijn, together with other celebrities, was subjected to horrific commando training.“When I’ve had a nice session with employees and my share in the presentation increases, I also find that adrenaline rush in it. It is also a form of performance, but in a different area.”
She still likes to train hard. “If I don’t train for a few days in a row, I get unhappy. But there’s just an afterlife. There is plenty to do after top sports.”
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