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  • World champion Daniela Ryf: 'Triathlon is a lifestyle.'
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    World champion Daniela Ryf: 'Triathlon is a lifestyle.' Sport

    Daniela Ryf has a reputation in the triathlon scene for being a fighter. The recipe for success of the two-time IRONMAN world champion from Switzerland: 'You need the right balance.'

    Text: Marcel Schlegel | Photos: Tobias Kuberski

Giving up is no alternative for Daniela Ryf.

Her training shoes fly over the asphalt. With each bound, the V-Class parked at the end of the path is a little closer. Just like coming into the home straight at a competition, the black people carrier represents the end of a hard workout. But suddenly the runner’s step slow down. Sweat runs from her brow, her calves are burning; there's only one step between her and giving up. But the idea of breaking off the race at a time like this is not an option for Daniela Ryf. Instead she moves up a gear and sprints the last few meters to the V-Class.


The best in the world.

Daniela Ryf is the best triathlete in the world. In 2014 and 2015 she won the 70.3 World Championships; this Swiss athlete won the IRONMAN Contest on Hawaii, the hardest race in the world, twice – and in 2016 with a track record. In the triathlon community, the 30-year old has a reputation for being a relentless fighter. Some even say she's aggressive, ignores her limits and even needs to feel the pain. It's also why she's called 'Angry Bird'.


But Ryf thinks that is going too far. And she's right. Because that just doesn't describe this PowerLady adequately. Well, of course the current world champion tortures herself in training and is ambitious - but not any more than others. 'That's part of endurance sport.' The difference to a lot of others: 'I try not to think of pain as something negative. I accept it.'


Recreation, family, variety and reliable partners.

In fact, and she places great value on this, Ryf sees the pain of a tough workout as just one side of the coin. And on the other side: rest, family and free time - change, basically. 'You need the right balance,' says Ryf. 'That's the key to success,' says the 1.75 m-tall female athlete, documenting a learning process triggered by her trainer, Brett Sutton. 'He taught me it's not always better to train even harder. I train now with more balance.'


Triathlon as a balancing act.

Balancing on a tightrope. In the words of the two-time IRONMAN world champion: 'It's not easy to find the balance. You have to develop a sense for it.' Every strength can turn into a weakness if it's not kept in the right balance. 'And it takes ambition - but you also need a relaxed attitude. If you want something too much, you'll fail or be unhappy,' says Ryf. And she can't do without a positive attitude that only develops through a balance and from a healthy environment.


Daniela Ryf describes it as 'mental balance': 'You have to put together lots of little pieces of the puzzle,' says the world-class athlete, as she changes her shoes inside the vehicle's large luggage compartment. 'Treating your body to breaks - that's one part of physical balance.' Ryf laughs.


PowerLady loves outdoor training.

The run today was just the first part of her workout. The Swiss woman unlocks her racing bike, lifts it swiftly out of the people carrier, hops onto the saddle and has soon covered some dozen kilometers - the distance from Zurich to Berne - her daily training. Her legs rotate unrelentingly, her eyes set resolutely on the asphalt.


The road seems endless. Monotony, hours of training, almost every day - and almost always alone - that's also something this world-class endurance athlete knows how to deal with. But just one side here too: 'We triathletes are very privileged,' thinks Ryf. 'We're often outdoors in beautiful places.' And that keeps everything in balance.


If your body goes on strike, your mind can help.

Her bike workout is over, she gets back to the steering wheel of her V-Class. As Ryf drives her people carrier through Feldbrunnen, she talks about the importance of family. Here in this Swiss community, she has set up a gym at her parent's house. She needs to be close to the mountains and to her relatives. 'This is where I get a clear head,' says the professional athlete. What you eat is also part of finding the right balance and something Daniela is very interested in. Ryf studied Food Science and Food Management. 'With food, it's never either good or bad,' she says. 'You shouldn't restrict yourself too much.' The body tells us what it needs. 'I don't count calories, I listen to my body.' Ryf is sure of herself: 'It's all about knowing if something is good for you or not. And I don't give up this or that totally, but have to feel good about what I eat.' So in addition to vegetables, meat and fish, the Swiss woman also turns to chips, chocolate or fast food if she feels like it. 'Naturally, in moderation.' 'Having too much of a good thing' - applies to life just as it does to food and competitive sport in general. 'It's only when your mind is fit that it can step into the breach to help a tired body.' And only then can the pain of training turn into motivation rather than suffering.

Daniela Ryf wins the first IRONMAN right away.

It was here in the canton of Solothurn that the PowerLady's career began. Her father a mountain guide, her mother a marathon runner, her step-father a triathlete, then her first children's triathlon at the age of four - sport has always been a natural part of her life. Ryf quickly developed into an exemplary athlete and soon started winning title after title. The 'Angry Bird' was on the way to conquering the triathlon world. But then: a sports crisis - injury, exhaustion, years of doubt, even thoughts of retiring plagued her. 'There are moments where you find yourself going nowhere,' explains Ryf. 'In this phase, you have to push away that gnawing self-doubt.' Her environment gave her the balance she was missing in her sport. It was more out of necessity that Ryf took part in her first IRONMAN in the summer of 2014. The long distance has never really been her thing. But Daniela Ryf won the race right away - just 24 hours before, she had secured a European title for the 5150 meter race.


And has remained unbeaten.

She won the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in 2014 and 2015. More than that: since 2014, Ryf has won every single race she has taken part in. She is two-time European and World Champion in mid-distance and two-time World Champion in long distance in the legendary race on Hawaii.


In 2015, she won the overall ranking in the highly acclaimed 'Triple Crown Series' and didn't lose a single race in the mid-distance.


Close to the limit - in her training too.

Now Daniela Ryf parks her V-Class in front of a pool. It's time for her swim training. In this workout too, she pushes herself to her limits. She can't do anything else. 'The pain in the preparation reminds me that I've reached the next level - that gives me a safe feeling for the competition,' explains Ryf. 'It's like a play in a theatre: The training is the rehearsal for the show and the competition is the performance.' The free style of the contest for which you are applauded, the reward for your hard work. 'Through the training I know that I'm ready for the contest - and that I can win the race.'