Imagine deciding to take up a hobby that usually requires many years to perfect at age 35, and three years later ending up in the top 30 in the world at the highest international competition for it.
That’s what happened to a 38-year-old math and physics teacher from Diepenbeek, Belgium. According to Netherlands News Live, Mieke Gorissen has jogged 10km (a little over six miles) a few times a week for exercise for many years. But in 2018, she decided to hire a running trainer to improve her technique. As it turned out, she was a bit of a natural at distance running.
Three years later, Gorissen found herself running her third marathon. But not just any old marathon (as if there were such a thing)—the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics. And not only did she compete with the world’s most elite group of runners, she came in 28th out of the 88 competing in the race.
With the heat and humidity in Tokyo, even completing the race was a major accomplishment. (Fifteen women competing did not finish the marathon.) But to come in in the top 30 when you just started focusing on distance running three years ago? Unbelievable.
In fact, Gorissen could hardly believe it herself. A video of her reaction upon hearing her results has gone viral for its purity and genuine humility. “No,” she said when a reporter told her she came in 28th in the race. “That’s not possible.”
Then she burst into tears.
Her emotional disbelief is so moving. “I was already happy to finish the race,” she said through sobs. “I do think I have reached my goal and that I can be happy.”
“I also think I lost a toenail,” she added, laughing.
Even after the English translation ends in the video, it’s clear how much this finish meant to her. A remarkable accomplishment for a 38-year-old who knits and reads for fun and who has only run two marathons prior to competing in the Olympics.
According to her Olympic profile, she’s glad she got started with distance running later in life. “If I started running in my teens, it wouldn’t have been good for me,” she said. “I wasn’t really happy then, I would have been too hard on myself and I would have lost myself in it in a way that wasn’t healthy. It came at exactly the right time.”
Congratulations, Mieke. You’ve given us all the inspiration to set new goals and dream bigger than we ever thought possible.
This article originally appeared on 08.12.21