Against the Odds

Dutch vaulter Claire de Ridder has probably battled harder than any other athlete to get to WEG after suffering a terrible injury to her ankle only 13 months ago, during the European Championships in Austria.

Against the Odds
© PSV Photos

I slid of the back of my horse and he trod on my ankle as he cantered away,” Claire said of the incident which severely broke her right ankle, “I had made it to the finals – the first time in 19 years that someone from Holland had made it that far, this had been my dream since I was a little girl and then that happened in the warm up.”

So the long recovery process began, taking almost 10 months, and she is still not completely fixed – Claire has two plates and 10 bolts still in her ankle. She visited numerous medical facilities during that time and encountered problems along the way. “I had a dystrophic reaction so my body blocked the whole ankle and healing stopped, it was very serious and really painful.” She said, “I went to two different sports medicine facilities and I had Cryotherapy in a room which was minus 110 degrees Celsius twice a day, plus radiation and so many different therapies alongside the physiotherapy to try and get the healing to work.”

Claire hadn’t even mounted 2 weeks before the start of the competitive season in May, “as I could not jump, there was just no force in my leg,” she said, “but then I thought that I just had to try and qualify [for WEG] so I went and did some competitions.” At first both Claire and her horse, Tjekko, struggled in competition but every time they went out they got a little better. “Then at Krumke FEI World Cup show in July, I had the best competition of my life,” Claire said, “everything just went right and I got a 7.3 – my highest score ever!”

Claire has clearly defied all odds to be here. With the support of her entire family, her uncle and mother are physiotherapists, plus her boyfriend Nicolas Andreani, who won the world championship title at Kentucky four years ago, she has managed to realise her ambitions. “My mum thought I was never going to vault again but she didn’t tell me this, so it was difficult for her to see me in that much pain after training. My boyfriend was so supportive, he believed in me the whole way and when I had difficult times he was there for me.”

As far as the medical professionals go, they warned Claire that she might not make it to the World Equestrian Games, “the doctor told me that my ankle is never going to be the same again but I just want it to be, it has to be, I have proved them wrong this far,” she said, “people were telling me to fold and not try and qualify but this is the World Championships, it was not an option!”

Claire also had the support of sports psychologists throughout her rehabilitation, “there was one competition that didn’t go the way that I would have liked it to and I worked with a mental coach who gave me two options – walk away now which I would not be happy about, or give it everything I have and just go for it and if I didn’t make it then I knew that I had at least tried my hardest.”

So Claire adopted that attitude but unfortunately encountered another set back at the same time, the doctors discovered she was suffering from an autoimmune disease which was affecting her recovery, “when I started training again it was very difficult for me to regain physical condition and core strength, I was just not feeling well but I thought it was because of the pain in my ankle,” she said, “the doctors started treating the disease and everything just got better, but at that point there were just too many things just coming against me the whole time.” However Claire reminded herself that to compete on the world stage for her title was her life time dream, so she dug deep and fought harder, “so when I was running into the arena today I was nearly crying because I thought “I am actually here!”

Claire’s aim is to reach the Freestyle at The Games to right some wrongs, “for me, of course I want to try and get to the finals again, but everybody keeps telling me that I should just be happy that I am here because it’s such an achievement.” They are correct of course, Claire’s story is one of gritty determination, proving that surrounding yourself with the right support, working hard and never giving up will eventually allow you to realise your goals and live your dreams.

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