Fanny pushed her heels back into the starting blocks. The wind blew.
But it was just circulating the heat.
Sweat ran down her arms to her fingertips. It had been a record heatwave in London.
Fanny inhaled the thick air. The dry dirt from the track stuck in her nostrils.
Fanny could feel her heart beating through her fingertips. She wiped her hands on her shorts and placed them on the track waiting for the gun to signal it was time to run.
She had been training for this day since she was six years old.
Fanny Blankers-Koen had made it to the London Olympics of 1948.
The crowd looked on skeptically. Half of them thinking that, at 30, she was too old to be a competitor.
The other half thinking that she was an awful person and shouldn’t be competing at all because she was a wife and a mother.
The sports commentators of the day postulated that her training and a competition with her in it was utterly selfish. It was savage. And cutting.
She half-wondered if everyone was right.
But she didn’t have to wonder for too long.
The gun went off and Fanny did what she had been doing since she was seventeen, when she set a national record for the 800 meter…
This moment was her second attempt at an Olympic medal.
She had tried when she was 18 at the Berlin Olympics — but didn’t place.
Then Fanny met Jan Koen. He was her Olympic coach and fifteen years her senior.
The two fell in love. Soon after he became her husband.
World War II stopped the next two Olympics from happening — both 1940 and 1944. Fanny trained through the war.
Meanwhile, she and Jan had two children, named Jan Jr. and Fanny Jr.
There wasn’t a track near her home. So twice a week, Fanny would get on her bicycle and ride 18 miles to the nearest indoor track to train,
Then she would come home and carry on with her duties as a housewife. Cooking, cleaning and tending to the children.
Fanny’s feet hit the dirt track one after the other.
She didn’t look back. But she did leave her competition behind her. Despite being the oldest competitor in the race. The only one with kids.
But that didn’t matter. She won the gold in the women’s 100-meter race with a time of 11.9 seconds. An Olympic record.
Her second event was the 80-meter hurdles.
Deliberate as always, Fanny placed her feet on the starting blocks. Quiet. Focused. Ready for what was to come next.
She wiped her hands on her orange running shorts.
Drying off the sweat that dripped from her fingertips.
Then she placed her hands on the dirt track. And waited for the sound of the gun.
Then she ran.
One. Two. Three. Jump. One. Two. Three. Jump. Her foot grazed the hurdle.
She kept going. One. Two. Three. Jump. One. Two. Three. Jump.
Fanny finished in first place with her second consecutive record-breaking time. 11.2 seconds.
She had won her second gold medal.
Fanny stood quietly on the podium.
At 6’ tall, she looked larger than life to the younger athletes who were literally looking up at her.
Fanny’s strawberry blonde hair rippled behind her in the wind. She looked out at the crowd with her shy smile and graciously accepted her medal.
She was excited. But she was tired.
By the time she got to the trial run of her third event, Fanny was an emotional wreck. She was exhausted.
She missed her children, who were back at home in Amsterdam.
Breaking down in tears, she told her husband that she just wanted to go home.
She didn’t want to compete in any more events.
Maybe all those people who wrote her letters before the Olympic games were right. Maybe she didn’t have any business competing at this elite level while leaving her kids at home.
Maybe she should just be doing what was expected of her as a woman: cooking, cleaning and raising the kids.
Jan quietly reminded Fanny of all the work she had done to get there.
He reminded her of her 18-mile bike rides.
He reminded her that she held the world record in seven events.
He reminded her that she was able to start training again just two weeks after their son had been born.
He pointed out all the young ladies who were looking up to her for the incredible example she set.
And he urged her to go on. And so she did.
She wiped her tears and walked back out onto London’s Wembley track to compete in the 200-meter race.
She ran as the rain poured down.
Her head up, her body relaxed.
The race announcers tried to ridicule her running style by saying that she ran as if she was “racing to the kitchen to rescue a batch of burning biscuits.”
But her fans knew all too well that if Fanny was running to the kitchen, the biscuits wouldn’t have a chance of burning.
She ran the 200m in 24.4 seconds. A landslide.
She won by 0.7 seconds. The highest margin in Olympic history to this day.
They called her “The Flying Housewife.”
And she still had one more event to go. The 4×100 relay.
A win seemed unlikely this time.
She watched as her teammates struggled to get the baton to her. The gap between her team and all the others widened.
To win she knew she would have to run faster than she ever had run before.
The track was mud. The heat was sweltering. The rain didn’t cool anything down. It just made it harder to breathe.
She got in position. She placed her hand in the ready position to get the baton. And she waited for what felt like an eternity.
As Fanny felt the familiar stick in her hand she took off.
Pushing with every ounce of her effort, she slowly started closing the gap.
She was far behind her competitors. Soon she was next to them. Then she was ahead of them.
Crossing the finish line in what was a photo finish.
The Dutch Olympic team had won the gold thanks to “The Flying Housewife.”
Fanny Blankers-Koen left London as the star of the Olympic games. It was the first time in history a woman had ever been lauded a hero.
She went home with four gold medals — a record that still hasn’t been beaten.
Fanny could have won two more gold medals in the 1948 Summer Olympics — the high jump and the long jump.
But athletes were limited to only three individual events.
Fanny went back to Amsterdam a hero — but she didn’t receive millions of dollars in endorsements.
The city of Amsterdam gave her a bicycle as her reward, and she went back to her old life. She went back to her children. She went back to cooking and doing housework.
But she couldn’t shake the drive inside her.
So she continued to train. And continued to break records.
Two years after the Olympics, she went to the European Championships in Brussels and almost cloned her Olympic performance.
She won everything all over again.
Gold in the 100 m. Gold in the 200 m. Gold in the 80 m hurdles. Sadly, she and her team only managed a silver in the 4x100m relay.
It was still a beautiful day for Fanny.
A handful of years later, she retired from competition — a few years shy of 40. To honor her, the city of Amsterdam erected a bronze statue of her tearing through a finish line tape..
Fanny Blankers-Koen passed away at the age of 85. She died with the title of “Female Athlete of the Century.”
It was an honor she didn’t think she deserved.
“ALL I’VE DONE IS RUN FAST. I DON’T SEE WHY PEOPLE SHOULD MAKE A FUSS ABOUT THAT.”
But it was worth making a fuss. Fanny taught women the importance of breaking stereotypes.
Of going after what you love. Of pushing yourself to the limits even when it seems like the whole world is telling you that you should be doing something else.
Fanny taught the world about believing in yourself.
And about having at least one person in your life who also believes in you.
If Fanny Blankers-Koen had quit before the 200 meters when she felt like giving up — when she missed her children — her story would have turned out differently.
Maybe nobody would know who Fanny was today. Thankfully, Fanny had a drive within her that sparked her to rise to the occasion.
There will be days when you don’t have the energy to believe in yourself. There will be days when you’re not sure you are doing the right, headed the right direction, or doing anything that matters.
Success demands drive. And it has to come from inside you.
What are you doing each day to keep your drive alive?