Meet the Athlete Role Models: Henriette Engel Hansen

In the first of a new series, we turn the spotlight on the Athlete Role Models (ARMs) who will mentor the young athletes during the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018. First up, we speak to Danish kayaker Henriette Engel Hansen, a three-time Olympian who is already looking forward to sharing her experiences with participants this October.

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Why did you want to become an ARM at the YOG?

“First of all, I really enjoy working with young athletes. I’ve always been an active member of my local paddling club, even though I’ve been with the national team, so I’ve spent a lot of time around young athletes. I’m really motivated to share some of my experiences with them.”

What are some of the things that you’d like to speak to them about?

“I’d like to show them that it’s possible to focus on their sport and still have a life as well. One of the biggest problems we have is that we often lose a lot of the really talented young athletes when they’re in high school. There are just so many other opportunities available to them. At that age, they usually have a lot of friends who maybe aren’t doing sports, so it’s easy for them to be pulled away to go to parties and things like that. I want them to know that it’s possible to do both. Of course, you have to make some sacrifices if you’re going to compete and train, but you can still have a life away from sport as well. You can get so much more out of life and meet so many new friends from around the world when you stay focused and reach the international level. For many of the athletes at the YOG, this may be the first time they are competing internationally and meeting fellow athletes from around the world, so hopefully they will be able to see the benefits.”

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And what advice do you think you could offer them about finding that balance?

“It’s not easy being a teenager today. There are so many things for them to worry about – from being the best in school or sport to making sure they’re wearing the right shoes or posting good photos on social media. So you need to talk with somebody about what's going on in your mind and how things are working for you. And then I think it's important to make a schedule, so that you know you have the time for your training and for your school and also for your friends, too. If you set aside some time for your friends then you know you’re not missing out and you can still hang out with them every week.”

How much did you know about the YOG beforehand?

“I have a pretty fun story. Back in 2006, I taught a young girl called Ida Villumsen to paddle during the summer school at our club. She was 12 years old at the time and after a couple of years she was really committed to paddling. By 2010, she was selected for the first YOG in Singapore, so that’s how I first knew about the event. Ida kept competing and in 2016 we actually raced together in the K4 event at the Olympic Games in Rio! Now she has finished with the national team, but we recently worked together again at a training camp for 40 young athletes, training them and teaching them some of the skills we've gained.

Ida and I have chatted about the YOG, and I think she learned a lot from going to Singapore. She learned things that she's been able to bring with her into her athlete life, which helped prepare her for the Olympic Games. So I think the YOG are a great opportunity for young athletes to experience a bit of the Olympic atmosphere early in life.”

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What are you most looking forward to about the YOG?

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and I'm really looking forward to meeting all the athletes from around the world. I want to hear what a normal day is like for them. It’s one thing to know what the young athletes are doing in Denmark, but how do they do it out there in the rest of the world?”