“I think women are amazing.” Olympic Medallist, Bridgitte Hartley

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Olympic Medalist Bridgitte Hartley

Bridgitte Hartley is one of only a handful of South African women that has won an Olympic Medal for South Africa. She loves water sports and still has ambitions to dominate her chosen sport. She chatted to Justjody.co.za recently.

Tell us more about you, where did you grow up, go to school, family etc?
I grew up in a few places, most of my last few were spent in Pretoria and some of it in Empangeni & Richards bay after my parents were separated. I returned to Pretoria again to finish school as my dad lived just outside. I finished school as a border at Pretoria high school for girls. I applied to study at TUkS and spent a great portion on the sports campus first playing hockey and eventually that’s where I started to paddle more!

Where and when did your love for water sport start?
I started surfing at 13 which I absolutely loved! It was when surfing was starting to grow in South Africa for woman. I represented Zululand at SA champs as a junior and a senior. My dad introduced me to paddling at the end of high school but I preferred school sport as it kept me busy so I didn’t have to go to prep. At school it was always about trying to get collies and half colours and badges so I was a bit of an over achiever then already! During my second year of university I started to paddle more and train more in the Tuks sports campus. That’s where I met some guys who introduced me to a Hungarian coach who was in SA at the time and he trained me with a squad to eventually race for SA already in 2006 and go into winning an Olympic medal!

What does your training programme entail?
Six days a week. Paddling twice a day, each session is an hour to an hour and 20 minutes long. Three gym sessions a week and two to three running sessions. Sunday is rest and Saturday and Wednesday I have the afternoon free.

What do you love most about your sport?
It’s an outdoor sport but in the sport it has different disciplines. I have recently tried to compete in river races and Surfski races which have a few different skill requirements. The flat water sprinting in all about hard training technique and a good race plan! The marathon flat-water racing is also very competitive but it’s longer and it has portages.

Jody and Bridgitte at the HPC in Pretoria

Career highlights?
I won my first world champs medal in 2009 K1 1000m – 3rd non Olympic distance. My first World Cup k1 500 m win and bronze medal was also in that year. My Olympic medal is by far my most proud achievement k1 -500m bronze at the London Olympic. I also got a k1 -500m bronze medal at world champs in Moscow in 2004. I have competed in 3 Olympic Games for South Africa. I am still the first and only South African and Africa paddler to win an Olympic medal for kayak sprint disciplines.

Describe a typical day in the life of Brigitte Hartley?
A training day often starting at 5:30 with running or gym. A small breakfast followed by a paddling session on the water at 8 am. Then I currently have a part time job so I try to get a bit of work done or I have a Physio appointment once a week. Some rest is important and a good lunch. I have another paddle session at 3pm sometimes followed by stretching or some pull ups. Then home to refuel.

What would still like to achieve in your career?
I have been trying my luck in some Surfski races at the moment, this has been a lot of fun being a new challenge. I would love to still podium in a marathon world champs event and a Surfski world champs. I would also still possibility like to still give qualification for Tokyo Olympics a go if I can get some funding.

How do you do to relax, when you are not training or participating?
I love to do yoga or meet some friends for breakfast and explore some funky coffee shops! I am not good at doing nothing I always keep myself busy. Unless I am tired from training.

Your advice to anyone who would like to pursue a career in watersport?
It takes times and consistent training, don’t expect a result in 1 year.
Learn from people to help improve training methods and keep challenging yourself to improve.

How do you see the role of women in South Africa and the world in 2017? What are some of the challenges and what should be celebrated?
I think woman are amazing. We no longer only live to become moms. Woman have become amazing athletes, business woman, mentors and many still find the time to help others by creating charitable drives etc. on top of becoming mom giving birth and being the rock that binds a family. I don’t think it’s the challenges that need to be celebrated but the achievements woman have achieved over the years after being allowed to compete in sport and challenge the business and entrepreneurial world to keep achieving more and more. We only have a handful of female Olympic medallists from South Africa and hopefully we can get more.