Chalk It Up To Greatness: Sophie Matthijs
Sophie Matthijs, 43 year old coach and professional CrossFit masters athlete, teaches us to listen to our gut feeling, take risks, and live heroically. Sophie's efforts over her CrossFit career demonstrate commitment to personal growth and building others up. Her dedication to greatness is why she was chosen as this week’s featured athlete.
Sophie Matthijs was born and raised in Belgium and has been living in the Netherlands for the last 10 years. What started as a 2-year mission abroad in 2012 led to a life changing experience. Like Vellner’s 2018 cargo net tumble, Matthijs took a trip through an obstacle course that shifted her life trajectory from an international law enforcement policy advisor to a professional CrossFit athlete and coach. The shake up woke a competitive spirit that drove her to pursue her athlete dreams.
Sophie, how did CrossFit intersect into your life?
SM: I always played sports as a kid but going to university and the subsequent 10-years of my working life took priority and dimmed my passion for athletics. I was fully dedicated to my work-mission, as this also opened doors and transitioned my life from Belgium to the Netherlands.
This is where my life-change started.
One year into the job, a colleague convinced me to join a 12k obstacle team race. I started preparing because I did not want to be the person slowing down the team, mentally that would be a no-go for me. This was the turning-point in my life. The faded-away passion for sports which was so present when I was a kid, came back into my life. During this obstacle race I made friends with an American army guy, who highly recommended me to try-out CrossFit. After one try-out class I started my membership in November 2013 at CrossFit Bink 36 in the Hague and before I knew it, I had my competitive drive back. I got my CrossFit-level 1 and started coaching at the box.
Juggling between my own training hours, coaching at the box, and my full-time job at the international law enforcement organization, I felt at a certain point this was no longer sustainable and it made me realize I had to make a choice.
In the summer of 2018 I resigned from my full-time job and devoted all my time to training and coaching. What was perceived by some as a big risk, giving up a well-paid full time job with all the social securities included, felt for me as the right thing to do. Of course, it was a jump into the deep end, but I trusted this is the right path for me. I believe everything happens for a reason, so sports, becoming such a priority in my life, was a sign for me to make that shift.
Not a single-day have I regretted this decision.
It’s about focussing on the wins, and the learning points, learning to focus on the bigger picture, and that one “bad” training session does not make me a “bad athlete”. It’s about the love and support I receive from the people from our box community, they drive me to be diligent.Sophie Matthijs
What is your life like outside the box?
SM: My life outside the box is quite simple. I love to chill and recover at home, but I also love to go out to a good quality-food restaurant once in a while. If you give me food, you make me happy. I love spending time with my family, as it’s always such a treat to be back with them. I’m a big marvel-fan, if there would be a marvel-world existing somewhere in space, no doubt I would move straight into it.
What is your secret to being diligent and hard-working?
SM: I think the roots for hard-work definitely originated from the hard-working attitude of my family. I was raised in a small-family, together with my sister. Our parents both had full-time jobs so as kids we often spent some time after school with my grandparents. My grandmother was always busy, doing stuff at home, in the garden, etc. and the same goes for my mom, as she is always busy and making sure things get done. As kids, we were raised with the idea that you have to work hard to achieve your goals, and never wait till the last-minute to get things done.
As a kid, I loved the type of sports CrossFit represents. This combined with my competitive nature, athletic potential, and my character, shaped me into a hard-working athlete. Although it doesn’t feel like “hard-working”, of course I put a lot of time in training and sometimes I don’t feel like doing certain parts of the programming. Training with others increases my work ethic. We always push each other during the training sessions. I wouldn’t wanna have it any other way! It’s about showing up, and doing my best to hit the work with the right intensity (otherwise, just don’t do it at all). It’s about focussing on the wins, and the learning points. I also had to learn to focus on the bigger picture, and that one “bad” training session does not make me a “bad athlete”. It’s about keeping focus on my “why” and my goals, while putting in the work and not losing sight of the progress made along the way. It’s about the love and support I receive from the people from our box community, they drive me for sure to be diligent.
What is the motivation that keeps you steadfast toward health and fitness?
SM: I just love playing sports. As a kid I was always playing outside and playing sports with the kids in the neighborhood. My mom often tells this story that the boys came ringing the doorbell to ask if I could come play outside to be the goalkeeper in a soccer game. I was literally doing my homework while standing upright at the kitchen table wanting to go outside as fast as possible to play.
Health and fitness are a big part of who I am. Adding on top of this my competitive character, which gives me that drive and motivation, and gives me that push to become a better athlete.
I also like helping others to achieve their goals. Whether it is getting into a healthy lifestyle, starting to move again, staying strong while getting older, achieving certain skills or competition goals. I love to push people beyond what they think they can do and help them to overcome that self-limiting belief. It’s truly rewarding.
How do you approach disappointment with logic and resourcefulness? How can people become more like you when facing their own challenges?
SM: I think this is personal. What works for me to deal with disappointment, is to understand whether the disappointment is linked to something I can control or not. If it’s fully outside of my control, I’ll try to let it go as fast as possible. If however the disappointment is linked to something I did/did not do, then I will not beat myself up with regrets and thoughts such as “what if … or I should have …” , as that doesn’t help me in any way. So what I try to do is see what I can do differently in order to avoid a similar disappointment in the future and start working on that. It helps to talk and reflect on situations with the people supporting me, sometimes they put it in a certain perspective I didn’t think of.
As I mentioned before, this is personal, and this works for me. It’s a learning curve and work in progress. And some days it’s definitely easier than others.
How does love and loyalty help you manage stress and keep you going?
SM: Heading towards competitions, my stress level always gets super high. That’s where the love from the people around me even matters more. I have such a supportive circle around me, each time I’m amazed by all the love and support I receive from them.
My mom and dad help me to put everything into a bigger perspective, my coach reassuring me that the work has been done and now it’s a matter of showcasing and enjoying; my friends from the CrossFit box telling me how proud they are already and those who come and cheer me on during my competitions. That keeps me going, for sure!
Where have you learned the most valuable knowledge that has aided you in finding solutions to life’s challenges?
SM: The closest sounding board I have is my family and some of my friends. They support me in my decisions and in being who I am. And that is huge! I think even more now, growing older, the band with my family and friends is even stronger; they are always there supporting me no matter what and that’s one of the most precious gifts you can get.
When I have to make important decisions, I try to listen to my gut-feeling as much as possible – it’s the mind that will make me doubt. I truly believe everything happens for a reason, and when something comes along my path so clearly, like in my case that passion for CrossFit after 10-years not doing any sports, I believe I need to do something with that; that it is in my interest to follow it. My mind in that particular case was creating doubt in the financial area, changing from a well-paid secure job to something unknown on a self-employed basis. I’m so happy I listened to my gut-feeling and made that switch, and seeing it all worked out, even living some of my best days now.
How do I follow my gut-feeling?
I imagine the different possible scenarios and see how I feel with each of them. If it’s the right thing for me to do, I get that feeling of excitement, and then I know which way to go.
How do you train the mind for greatness?
SM: Two years ago, I worked on my mental game. The guidance and support received during these couple of months made me grow tremendously as an athlete and human being. During the last CrossFit Games Quarterfinals tests I noticed I still have some work to do in this area. So right after the online competition, I took action and we started to work specifically in this area again.
With my team at CrossFit Bink 36 behind me, I completed the AGOQ, placing 24th in 2023 and 19th in 2022 in the 40-45 individual masters category.
Greatness is very subjective, and depending on the person you ask, you will get different answers for sure. I’m journaling daily, reflecting on my training, which helps me to understand even more which kind of athlete and person I am. It puts a light on the aspects I am proud of but also sheds light on my darker side, things I need to tackle in order to become the best version of the athlete I can be and become an even better human being; and those two things would mean achieving greatness for me.
Sophie has achieved greatness and inspires the us to follow our instincts, living joyful, purpose driven lives. Follow Sophie’s journey on Instagram at @sophie_cfgirl.
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