Meet Sven: Tandem’s Banking Products Director and Ironman athlete:
Zurich, Switzerland, 2019
Around 6 years ago, on a typical spring morning in London, I woke up and ran to catch the commuter train from Kentish Town to City Thameslink, something I used to do everyday. Although, that day would turn out different. I’ve boarded the carriage leaning against the door frame, as soon as the train left the station, my whole world went pitch black. I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t quite faint. I was standing there paralised. I couldn’t see even though my eyes were wide open. Panic set in.
The train pulled into Kings Cross, doors opened, and there I was, clinging onto the door, still seeing nothing but darkness. The train was packed. I tried to stay calm while people were leaving the train. Sweat started to run down my face, I felt panic. As the train approached Farringdon station I started to count down until City Thameslink, which was just a stop away. I couldn’t understand what was going on, breathing deeply, trying to calm myself down, when the train finally reached the platform, I could see the light, my sight was back.
Those were some of the scariest 8 minutes of my life! It was also the day I knew I had to change. I hit the reboot button. I was quite overweight, out of shape and clearly had enjoyed the “work hard, play hard” life motto too much.
I am Sven, Tandem’s Banking Products Director and Ironman athlete. On that fateful Spring day in 2013, I set out to become healthy again. Since back then, I’ve moved from short-distance triathlons to doing Ironman, a single day endurance event in which we swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and finish by running a marathon of 26.2 miles without breaks, pros do it in 8 hours, I take around 14 hours. Since that day I’ve also lost 5 stones, moved from Product Manager to one of Tandem’s senior leaders and completed 6 Ironman marathons.
So, you might be thinking it’s all plain sailing now then? Wrong! It has been far from it.
It has been a rollercoaster journey, being in and out of training, losing and gaining weight and encountering moments in which I thought I couldn’t simply push further, just to discover that limits tend to only exist in our heads and that we can do absolutely anything.
Today I’d like to share my story with you and hopefully give you some insights on how to combine your passions and hobbies with a fulfilling career.
How to start training?
Frankfurt, Germany, 2011 - Frankfurt, Germany, 2014
1. Set a goal.
Set a goal and a vision of something that inspires you and then take small steps towards achieving it. It needs to be something that pulls you in, not something you have to push yourself to do it.
2. Surround yourself with people who support your dream.
I followed Ironman athletes and their stories for about 5 years before I dared to sign up to a triathlon. I’ve seen all the highlight shows from the world championships in Kona Hawaii, impressed with so many amazing stories of people who overcame all sorts of adversity to finish the race. People who had physical and mental challenges. If all these amazing human beings could put themselves through the sacrifice required to achieve a dream, would I have an excuse?
3. Stop thinking, start doing it!
Although, I never considered myself an athlete and people around me didn’t think I could do it, becoming an Ironman remained a distant dream. But that spring morning finally scared me into action, I started with an Olympic Distance triathlon which is about a quarter of an Ironman race, something I had done before and felt comfortable with. In the meantime, a colleague who just finished his first Ironman told me to sign up, there was still 12 months to go and I would have plenty of time to figure out how to do it. He was right.
4. Sign up to Iron Man.
I still remember the day I signed up like it was yesterday, I was so excited! 12 months later I was in Frankfurt Germany and finished my first Ironman in 14 hours 45 minutes. It was the most amazing feeling ever. And after a break for a year in which I felt something was missing, I’ve been back every year since to rediscover that amazing feeling.
5. Find a purpose.
Over the past year I had a shift of identity and started to consider myself an athlete. This new self-understanding was also aligned to my values as an individual, which enabled me to really progress to the next level in my passion for the sport but also in my professional career. Working for a purpose driven company such as Tandem really helped me to set milestones, everyone there is encouraged to bring their full self to the office and my fellow Tandemers are always supportive along the journey.
6. Have persistence and discipline.
Clarity of purpose is so important because once you have that it will facilitate reaching your best performance across the board, both in your passion or hobby but also at work. It will also carry you through all the tough days along the way and help you stay disciplined when you really don’t want to do it anymore. But the persistence ultimately is rewarded with a sense of accomplishment when achieving what you set out to do. Plus lots of smaller highs along the way, in the case of endurance sports, the endorphin and adrenaline highs most definitely help.
7. Become the best version of yourself
London, UK, 2010 - Frankfurt, Germany, 2014
Have a commitment to excellence and to continuously improve. Don’t compete against anyone else, just focus on where and what you want to be. I find continuous progress and self development deeply motivating.
8. Set an example to be followed
Set an example and inspire people around you, just like I once was inspired by others who had overcome their perceived limits and created a positive impact on their lives. Well-being and a balanced lifestyle is something I deeply care about and it’s amazing when friends, colleagues and even strangers tell me that they are also commited to trying to be more active as a result of following my journey.
9. Focus on inclusion
Ironman is an incredibly inclusive sport. We all race on the same course on the same day at the same time, men, women, amateurs and professionals, all age-groups. The Pros start a few minutes ahead to ensure they have a clear start path. Aside from the world championships that you have to qualify for, anyone can sign up to any other race in the world and can compete. Everyone is welcome. The races tend to be super international and everyone I’ve met so far was always supportive and helping each other out as we’re all on the same journey.
10. Plan ahead
I’ve planned to explore more adventures rather than just the European official Ironman races circuit. Next up will be a small independent triathlon challenge in Patagonia, Chile – same distance but different setting- having raw and extreme nature as surroundings. Afterwards, focus will shift again to finally fulfil the dream to race during the world championships in Kona Hawaii. While I am not fast enough to qualify to the main event, they have introduced a new programme whereby anyone completing 12 Ironman can gain entry as acknowledgement of their commitment to the sport and lifestyle. So as a reward they give you the one-time opportunity to race in the original race which is the world championship. Let’s go!