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Mariske Strauss

Aspiring to Inspire

Mariske Strauss, an accomplished mountain bike racer and a well decorated South African and Continental Champion, has always possessed a deep passion for the outdoors and an active lifestyle. Over the past decade, she dedicated herself to competing on the international circuit, relentlessly pursuing her dream of participating in the Olympic Games. Despite her remarkable achievements, Mariske remains committed to her ethos of "aspiring to inspire." In 2016, she completed her Sports Science degree, which has enabled her to pursue her passion for coaching and working as a sports masseuse. Through her wellness clinic, Mariske promotes an active and healthy way of life, organizing workshops and coaching sessions for individuals of all ages, particularly children and women. Her ultimate goal is to pass on her extensive knowledge and experience to the next generation, ensuring a legacy of inspiration and motivation.

We talked with Mariske to learn more about the catalysts that led her to this point in her life.

Liv: How did you get into cycling?

Mariske: My dad actually got me into cycling, he started racing and then my brother followed suit. Since I was always at their events, I thought, "Why not give it a try myself?" The cycling bug bit me, and ever since then, I have never looked back.

Liv: Why is creating more opportunities for women in cycling important to you?

Mariske: When I started racing I had to compete against boys since there wasn't a community of female competitors. I experienced the challenges firsthand and know the struggles, which is why I am deeply committed to progressing the sport so the next generation will have an even better platform.

Liv: In what ways has cycling and the act of inspiring others shaped you as a person?

Mariske: I think life sends us on strange paths and having been an athlete for the majority of my life, I know we as athletes can be very harsh on ourselves in the pursuit of “perfection”. Ultimately you need to set goals for yourself - I like to measure myself against me, it is at the end of the day the only thing I can control, and if I can be the best version of myself and grow at every opportunity then I am moving forward. We are all on our own journeys and through my sport, I have learned to overcome and push through hard times and celebrate the best times, it has shaped me into the person I am today and I cannot imagine my life without my bike. Besides the medals and podiums cycling has given me the grit and commitment to take on anything life has to offer and that is an incredible gift. Hopefully, through this all I will inspire the next generation of racers.

Liv: You recently announced on your blog a new medical diagnosis, how has it changed your life and how do you overcome this?

Mariske: Yes, I was diagnosed with Myocarditis. It has completely turned my world upside down, I went from being a top athlete training and racing flat out to well, nothing. The first 6 weeks I was cleared to sit on the couch and chill... after this, I could start walking but nothing that elevated my heart rate and no longer than an hour. I am finally at a point where I can start riding my bike, still with no intensity, but finally, I can start weaning myself off some of the medication I have to take. It is a very slow process and it is not easy but I know there is a reason for all of this. It has put everything into perspective for me and it’s definitely been a test of faith and patience and it is still an ongoing “dance“ to get to my full health. I have been so blessed and fortunate to have amazing sponsors and a phenomenal support structure that has stood by me through it all, I am grateful for that and try to hold on to these blessings and positive moments. Don’t get me wrong, I've had my fair share of hopeless moments and cried my eyes out but I chose to focus on the good. You are in control of how you decide to react to situations and I am not saying you can’t be sad, if you go through a rough time, embrace the pain and the hurt. For me, I tackle it the same way I would take on a technical section at an XCO World Cup - evaluate the situation (or rock garden), walk it through, discuss it, and then, move forward. Find the things that bring you joy and hold onto them, after you have evaluated and learned what you can from your hardship let it go and carry on.

Liv: What are your other hobbies? We saw you are also an oil painting artist on socials.

Mariske: Yes, I fell in love with oil painting, this has been one of the unexpected blessings that came out of my current situation. Seeing that I have been unable to do most of my other more adventurous hobbies, painting has been an amazing escape and a lovely change of pace.

Liv: What would you say to a non-cyclist or someone who is just getting into the sport to encourage them?

Mariske: Cycling is freedom and joy in motion, so embrace all it has to offer. There is a strange exhilaration of pushing your body past all limits you thought possible, so no matter how skilled you get, always remember why you started in the first place and hold onto the joy cycling brings. It’s after all one of the main reasons we started riding bikes in the first place.

Follow Mariske on Instagram for mountain bike tech tips and stay up to date with Mariske Strauss's Blog