Quitting something is not in my dictionary. I am very disciplined. I love to have results. I never understand how so many people find reasons why something cannot work. I always look the other way, for ways why it can work. And then it is just going to happen. Entrepreneurship is the same as training.
You learn and fail, grab yourself together. Get feedback and you just try again. Until you make it work. Even when life gets in the way.
As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tineke Rensen.
Tineke is a former National Champion white water kayaking. She is a published author and a multi-award-winning serial entrepreneur. She created a system “The Women’s Blueprint for Business Success” She helps businesswomen to scale up since their businesses often remain too small. She has 30 years’ experience of running her own international businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a small country village. Both my parents worked and were not highly educated. Their parents were farmers. It was always a lot of fun to visit them and play outside and explore the area.
I have one sister.
My dad had a big vegetable garden and we always had to help to weed and harvest all the crop. We never had to buy any vegetables or meat in the supermarket. So, I learned at a young age that I needed to get my hands dirty and not moan and winge about things that just had to be done. I think that is where I learned about discipline.
My parents argued a lot, so it was a stressful environment for a child to grow up. Somehow, I managed to focus on the good things when I was a kid. Eventually, they divorced when I was 17.
I was shy and started to love sports when I was 6. I went to school cartwheeling all the way. I was the fasted in climbing the trees in our street. Even faster than the boys. So, I was quite a tomboy. I rather play outside with the boys then play insides with the girls and my dolls.
The sports I choose were all solo sports. I did not like to be in a team. I wanted to be solely responsible for all my achievements. Good or bad. I learned the bad way when I was 12 that I could not rely on other people when I wanted to become very good. (Nowadays I consider myself a team player, so things can change ☺ I was 17 when I started to study sports.
I then quit my gymnastics career. I realized I was getting too old and I would not become the national champion anymore. I soon got involved in white water kayaking and skiing. My country has no mountains so for both sports I needed to go abroad. I learned that I was very talented in most sports. I was very disciplined and practiced a lot. I became a ski teacher and ski-guide in my early twenties. So, I lived in the Austrian Alps most winters.
In summer I moved to France to teach white water kayaking. Until I started my own outdoor and survival business when I was 25.
A few years later I entered the national freestyle skiing team we travelled a lot. Unfortunately, I broke my thumb on the day I could become the national champion.
When I was 37, I joined the national Freestyle whitewater kayaking team. I was by far the oldest. One year later I finally became a national champion, I was thrilled because it was a dream I’ve cherished since I was 10 years old.
I purely won because of my mental strength and my extended competition experience from my other sports. Technically I was not the best, yet mentally I was.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
Nadia Comăneci from Romania was my role model when I was a kid. I was 10 and she was a gymnast who won many gold medals. I wanted to be like her. I decided I wanted to become a national champion back in gymnastics.
I had no idea I needed my parents to achieve this goal and they were not prepared to drive me around the country for special clinics.
Eric Jackson from the USA
He was the best freestyle whitewater kayaker when I was competing, for a long period of time. He evolved the sport a lot with new moves/tricks and also new kayak designs. He was also the oldest player in the field for many years.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My dad believed in me when I wanted to study sports. Nobody believed I would make it through the selections to get qualified. People thought I was only good at gymnastics. And even if I would pass the test, how was I ever going to make money with sports? “It is not a job” is what most people thought. Especially my schoolteachers. This is back in 1982. My dad rode along with me on his bike when I was running and training for the qualification. And I did get qualified and I did study sports for 4 years.
And of course, I also want to thank, all my trainers and coaches along the way who have helped me to improve my skills and my behaviour.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I nearly drowned at one point, which is not funny at all, off course. It was on a hot day and we were going to paddle a stretch of a river, which I never paddled before. Many years ago, I was at the same stretch in the morning and to my big frustration, the guys I was with did not want me to join them. They did not believe I was capable enough. I was devastated but had to accept it.
Now I was back there to take revanche. I became a much better paddler in the meantime. The mistake I made was that the people I was with this time had different levels and no experience on this type of white water. Also, it was late afternoon on a very hot day. The river was very high because of the glacier melt and was not a grade 4 but a grade 5 because of this.
All of us had troubles during that stretch of river and we were swimming because we flipped out of our kayaks. I nearly drowned because I got sucked underneath a rock. We have been very lucky none of us got injured.
What I’ve learned is: Don’t let pride and ego decide.
How much, knowledge can help you in dangerous situations. I knew when I was getting warm in a glacier river that I was severely hypothermic, and the next phase would be subconsciousness. I somehow had to get to shore as quick as I could no matter how.
How mentally strong I am, since I initiated and lead the rescue operation to find and rescue the rest.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
My sport, which was my hobby at the time: white water kayaking, became my business. I started teaching people how to kayak on the rivers in Europe. At first on my own with some kayaks on top of my car. Later on, I took friends who could help me teach my clients.
This hobby grew to a serious outdoor and survival sports business where we took people to the Alps in Europe on many trips. We offered all kind of sports such as rafting, kayaking, climbing, canyoning, Via Ferrata and more.
After 22 years of building this business and being the only female owner in my industry in The Netherlands, I lost interest and I sold it.
With the experience I gained with starting and scaling a business from me on my own to 25 staff members, in 4 different countries, I now help businesswomen to scale & grow their business too.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects new you are working on now?
When I started my first business there were hardly computers, there was no internet, no cellphone, and no email.
What I love now is how you can have a big business, work with freelancers and do everything online and have little responsibilities.
When there is little work, for example now during Covid-19, I can reduce expenses very quickly and my business is still out there because I can do so much online and automate a lot of it. Another thing I love to do is that I am on social media every day to talk to my tribe.
Part of my business is running on autopilot with the support of bots and I work with freelancers. It is so much different from my first business where I employed people and had a lot of fixed expenses and therefore a lot of responsibility.
I get really happy when I find new tools to automate my business even further. I love that about the times we live in now. Because I’ve worked the old-fashioned way too. Therefore, I value automation and online bots a lot.
Sending out brochures, calling people on the landline, posting ads in papers. None of these things I have to do now to communicate with my future clients. My business is where my laptop is. That gives me so much freedom.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
Definitely. Quitting something is not in my dictionary. I am very disciplined. I love to have results. I never understand how so many people find reasons why something cannot work. I always look the other way, for ways why it can work. And then it is just going to happen. Entrepreneurship is the same as training.
You learn and fail, grab yourself together. Get feedback and you just try again. Until you make it work. Even when life gets in the way.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Have a clear goal. Short term and long term.
I always knew I wanted to be a national champion. I wanted to be the best in something in my country. I’ve tried 3 sports. Gymnastics when I was young. Without the support of my parents that was not going to work, I found out when I was 12. I tried mogul skiing, when I was in my early twenties. I was in the national team. At the day of our national championships at my last training run in the Swiss alps, I fell and broke my thumb. I had a fair chance to become number 1 that day. And finally, freestyle white-water kayaking. I was the oldest but had the best mental training because of my age. I had done so many competitions in my other 2 sports careers. I was 37 and mother of 1 daughter when I won the national Dutch title of the women during our national competition in France.
Make sure that you have an accountability partner. You need that person when you are in your own way. When you don’t feel like it when you have to go out of your comfort zone. When things don’t work over and over. They need to remind you of your goals and remind you of the giant you are.
Focus. It is something I’ve learned when I worked with men a lot. Women are programmed to be distracted so that they have an overview of what is going on around them with the people around them. That is a great trait but not when distraction keeps you further away from your goals.
Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone every day. That is where the learning is. That is where you’ll get better at things. That is where you achieve different results.
Have a plan and strategy and stick to it. And for women, it needs to be a little more flexible since they also need to be able to follow their intuition sometimes, within the frame of the plan. A gut feeling needs to be taken seriously. And a gut feeling is something else than a limiting belief. Limiting beliefs make you small, a gut feeling never does.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Always ask for help and don’t wait and hesitate too long. I did so many things on my own in the early days of my business. I found out so many things on my own and it took me a long time. My business could have grown a lot faster and could have become a lot bigger. I was in my own way. I was young (25) had no business experience and I was insecure. So, I never took risks. Back then (30 years ago) there were no business coaches.
Having a mentor would have helped me a lot when I first started. Someone who would have believed in me and guided me along the way would have helped me to grow my business faster.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It is my mission to make sure that women have bigger businesses. I have always been around men in sports and in business. They have great strategies to become successful and create big businesses. Women have the same issues I had when I was growing my business.
Scared to invest
Insecure on how to scale
Afraid to lose control
These fears stop businesswomen from creating big businesses. And that is such a waste of potential.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Help and support teenage kids that are too depressed to get out of their rooms. Go outside and play some kind of sport.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
It is from Walt Disney
If you can dream it, you can achieve it.
I was in my forties when we started to travel to Disneyworld in the USA, with the kids. That’s when I learned about Walt Disney. I realized it is what I’ve done all my life. Have a dream and start to work on it.
I’ve learned that I am a visual person. I always see things that I want to achieve.
I had no idea when I was a kid and I felt great when I was composing in my mind my exercises on the bar that this is a technique which helped me a lot. I was visualizing my exercises every night when I went to sleep. And when I was competing in reality, I could do my exercises with my eyes closed. I was so familiar with the sequence of moves because of the visualizations at night time.
Nowadays this is part of the mental training for all professional athletes.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂