Nienke Oostra | Vet | Runner, Cyclist, XTerra Athlete, Adventurer

When I was asked to write a blog for Active Vet Movement to try and inspire more veterinarians to become active, I immediately said yes. And then it took a while to actually get words down on a page. These days there are so many books by people doing extraordinary things and there are thousands of blogs available online of people sharing their experiences. I had the pleasure of meeting someone recently who made me question the need to share a story; whether the words written were interesting enough to read and truly inspiring or whether they were instead a self-fulfilling prophecy of being liked and accepted. I love stories, hence I love reading blogs, but with social media so present in our lives I have often questioned the originality of a written piece. I am always searching for the real story, the honesty of the person behind the words they have written and ultimately what makes them truly tick. I have found however that those stories don’t often get told or don’t get the exposure they deserve, because it is not what people like to read. I read a book recently in which there was a beautiful paragraph about people not liking messy. Society asks for the happy endings, the feel goods, the affirming and uplifting reports. “Come back when you have something positive to say”. But my life has been nothing but messy.

"I have found comfort in other people’s messiness... those are the stories I have always been interested in."

Most of it related to a childhood I could not control. I am still working it all out. Personally I have found comfort in other people’s messiness so to speak, those are the stories I have always been interested in. I have never really belonged anywhere. I moved around a lot as a child which did not help that matter. But I also believe it is partly me because I love to be free. To try a thousand things and become a jack of all trades rather than a master at one. And although I chose horses as a specialty in my veterinary career, I did not choose one particular interest in that field and ended up working in almost every aspect of equine practice. The same counted for my athletic career, so often I was asked to choose; “choose the bike and you will excel, keep doing multi sports and you will never reach your full potential on the bike”, but I wanted to run, ski, kayak, get lost in the mountains, I wanted it all. The same counted for combining my job as a veterinarian and pursuing my sporting career. Other than the financial reasons for finding it difficult to leave my profession, I loved being a vet, it was challenging, it was exciting and I was lucky to have learned from some of the best veterinarians in the world. When I was asked to choose, I did not want to. I wanted it all. Which came at a huge cost. It has taken me years to climb out of the hole I dug for myself. I get frustrated when I read quotes like “hard work always pays off”, “you will achieve it if you want it bad enough”, “just follow your heart and it will all work out” because that is simply not true. If it was, then all the hard workers would be world champions and anyone with a big dream would be able to achieve it. And believe me at the top end of the field everyone works their asses off to try and succeed at living their dreams. I am not someone who lacks motivation or is scared of big dreams. I am wired where I will suffer massively from imposter syndrome; I felt this especially during my short stint of racing at elite level, but at the same time I have an attitude where I would never settle for mediocre when there is an opportunity to strive for excellence. I have never needed motivation to train around my working hours, it is what I loved doing. Sure the temptation to stay in bed on the cold and wet winter mornings instead of going out training was there, I am only human after all but I always looked at the bigger picture and improvement is my addiction. Staying in bed would not get me any better, faster or stronger.

Racing at the world championships in Dutch national kit.

My drive and the idea which has been preached around the world on social media that if you want something bad enough all you need to do is work for it took a physical and mental toll on me. When it did not work out, I felt like a failure. But during the last few years trying to get back on track I have had a lot of time to reflect and work out what ultimately is important to me. And it comes down to my freedom. The freedom to be myself, in my work, my friendships and my relationships. I left veterinary practice because I did not feel I could feel that freedom and work as a veterinarian at the same time. I felt I was never good enough. For a long time I was stuck. When you look at my profile you could say I have done it all, I worked at some of the best equine hospitals in the world, I became a lecturer at one of the best veterinary universities in the world and I raced at elite level with the best of the world in multiple disciplines including racing world championships in my national kit. I have not regretted anything I have done, and it would not have been possible without my incredible support network!

"The expedition in Nepal taught me that I am the one in control of my life, that it is up to me to dictate my boundaries."

Last year I made a choice between veterinary and sport. It came with the dream of challenging my physical and mental limits traversing the Himalayas in Nepal from West to East by mountain bike. When I researched it, I discovered it had never been attempted let alone done before. I planned everything from choosing a route, studying a million maps endlessly, to all the logistics needed for something this big. I paid for the expedition, most of the kit and equipment needed out of my savings. The project was completely mine, I came up with the idea, it was my dream and although nothing went to plan, it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life because I was in control of what was controllable from beginning to end and tried to execute that to the best of my ability. As vets we are born high achievers, heck just getting into university means you have to stand out. We are also generally people who want to fix things, help out where we can, which often results in working around the clock. The expedition in Nepal taught me that I am the one in control of my life, that it is up to me to dictate my boundaries. I had to leave equine practice to realise that but I am keen to find a balance, search for a (part time) job where I can dictate my own freedom with people who respect that so I can chase my so many numerous goals on my never ending bucket list!

“Freedom in any case, is only possible by constantly struggling for it” - Einstein

Follow Nienke and her outdoor pursuits at and @nienkeventures on Instagram.

All images copyright Nienke Oostra.

How do you balance your veterinary life with exercise and sport? What do they bring to each other? Share your story with us.

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