One of the core values of XTERRA is the premise that we are stronger as a community.
It’s a value shared by members of the XTERRA Tribe all around the world and in South Africa, where the XTERRA World Tour gets underway just 10 days from now, Vicky van der Merwe has championed the idea.
In 2014, shortly after attaining her law degree, the elite triathlete started out on a mission to prove what one person can do to strengthen the core of many.
“When I completed my law degree, I decided I wasn’t ready to practice law just yet,” said van der Merwe. “So, I decided to form the Stellenbosch Triathlon Squad instead. Stellenbosch is the place where my triathlon career started, and it has always felt like home to me.”
Van der Merwe founded STS in 2014 with 15 members. Just over three years later, she is the head coach to more than 200 athletes and squad members.
“We have everyone from beginners training for their first triathlon to world champs like Flora Duffy and Brad Weiss who swim with us,” she said. “We offer three to four training sessions a day in addition to regular training camps and online coaching.”
What really sets van der Merwe’s squad apart from the rest, however, is the teamwork and camaraderie of the members.
“It’s like one big family,” said van der Merwe. “Our motto is ‘Strive to Succeed,’ so every athlete is out there trying their best and we have coaches to support all of those efforts. As proof, we’ll have about 60 athletes from the squad competing in XTERRA South Africa this year and I can tell you they are all really, really excited.”
Van Der Merwe not only gave the club its start. She also infused her own enthusiasm and gritty determination into her athletes. Her entire life, van der Merwe’s goal has been to represent South Africa in triathlon at the Olympics. She competed in her first triathlon when she was attending high school in Stellenbosch. Less than a year later, she represented South Africa at the ITU Junior World Championship in Japan.
“For the past 14 years triathlon played a massive role in my life,” said van der Merwe, one of the favorites in the elite field next Saturday. “I travelled to over 40 different countries, made lifelong friends, trained under various Olympic Coaches, and learned important life lessons.”
One of these lessons was persistence. Despite hip surgery as a young age and suffering from glandular fever (caused by the Epstein-Barr virus), van der Merwe refused to give up her dream. She often trained four to six hours a day as an elite athlete while she attended law school.
Her goal for race day is clear, to be the fastest South African woman and punch her ticket to the XTERRA World Championship.
“My main goal is getting to Maui,” said van der Merwe. “I qualified as an elite last year after my first ever XTERRA but didn’t go. This year I really want to go to Worlds. I also want to be the top South African elite female on the day and take a spot on the podium as well.”
Van der Merwe only started mountain biking in 2016 and admits she is constantly working to improve her skills and her confidence. But what she lacks in experience, she makes up for in enthusiasm.
“I absolutely love mountain biking,” she exclaimed. “I love how technical and individual it is. Unlike road riding, there’s no hiding.”
Because she is so busy with the Stellenbosch Triathlon Squad, van der Merwe reduced her training to two hours a day, so she focuses on high-quality workouts like running 8x1000 meter repeats. And despite the time requirement needed to be both founder and head coach of the STS, van der Merwe says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s just great to give back to the sport and share the knowledge and experience that I have built up racing triathlons. I love helping our athletes push their boundaries, strive to be better, and reach their goals- no matter how big or small.”
Learn more about XTERRA South Africa at http://www.stillwatersports.com.
Learn more about the Stellenbosch Triathlon Squad here.