We interviewed Dimitri Ghuys, who joined our Brussels office in 2007, and asked him how he managed to become the 110m hurdles and high jump national champion in Belgium in the Masters category after injuries cut short his promising athletic career 26 years ago.
How did you get into sport?
I come from a very athletic family and was encouraged to be active in sports from a very young age. When I was 10, I started training in track and field. I was drawn to it because it was all about measuring performance. You have very clear targets so know exactly what you need to beat, and whether you are performing well or not.
In my teens, I held numerous Belgian youth national championship titles which allowed me to pursue a competitive college career in the United States, most notably at Long Beach City College and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). In the late 1980s, UCLA was the most powerful university in track and field. I was surrounded by world champions there and it was very motivating to see them in action.
I trained hard and had a promising career in front of me, specifically in the 110m high hurdles and triple jump events. However at the age of 20, I was forced to retire due to severe injuries to both legs. I had to have a series of operations and ended up not being able to walk for almost a year. The injuries prohibited me from going back to competitive sports, and I changed my direction and focused on academic study instead.
What prompted you to come back to your sport, nearly three decades later?
Last year, encouraged by my 17 year old son who is very active in competitive sports, I decided to compete again. He challenged me to take part in track and field. During all these years, I’ve continued to play various sports for fun, but I hadn’t trained or competed for 26 years. Being candid, I was afraid of getting hurt again, but at the same time, I really wanted to be able to compete alongside him. With the immense support (physical and mental) from my partner and the competitive edge of my son, I decided to give it another try.
I started with high jump, as it didn’t involve much running. And to my surprise, I achieved a national title victory, in my “not so young” age category – Masters 45. This year, my competitive zeal is back and I started to establish myself in Masters Track with back-to-back national titles in high jump, and most recently I won the outdoor 110m hurdles championship title in the Masters category. On top of running and jumping events at the national level, I also now hold numerous regional titles in throwing events.
That’s an incredible journey. What has been your proudest moment to date?
Funnily enough, what I consider my proudest achievement is not the official titles that I have won, but the moment I qualified to run on the track again, alongside my son, in the Belgium National Stadium (King Baudouin Stadium) last year. It was not a national competition, just a regular track meet. In the 100m race, he was running in lane five and I was in lane four. He came first out of all contestants, and I managed to come a close second. That was the proudest moment that I’d had: being able to do what I love again, after so many years, and next to a person I love.
And is there a motto that you live by?
It’s ‘never giving up.’ Injuries are often the most terrible thing to happen to a professional sportsperson, and I’ve been through many of them. What I’ve learned is that you can cope with them by changing the intensity or going into a different type of sport. For me, the leg injuries prohibited me from intense running, but I have found success in different disciplines such as jumping or throwing. Ultimately, I believe that if something happens that makes it impossible for you to reach your dream or your goals, then change the path and find another way to it.
In which ways do you feel being active in sports helps you at work?
It helps me to be physically and mentally healthy, release stress and have energy for the next day. In addition, as professional athletes, we are used to having a clear set of goals, working hard, continuously making improvements, and achieving the goals that we set out in the beginning. These attributes have helped me immensely in my day-to-day work.