Brian Kamstra cherishes special moments as pro career ends

08 December 2021

Brian Kamstra is retiring from professional cycling at the end of the season. A muscular illness has forced the 28-year-old to call time on his career after this, his sixth full season on the Team Novo Nordisk. In the interview below he talks about his unconventional journey into cycling and the impact of being part of the diabetes community.

You were with the team for seven years in total?

Seven, yeah, after this year it’s seven. I started in 2015.

Your path to cycling and Team Novo Nordisk was slightly different because you were diagnosed quite later in life compared to most people?

That’s correct. I was diagnosed at 19.

How did you discover the team after that?

A Dutch guy, Martijn Verschoor, was a sprinter on the team. He always had a fundraising tour in my hometown, because he is from there and he’s parents were always organizing it. I was still running but I got injured, so I was training on the bike as an alternative. I went to that fundraising tour and I met with him there. I told him I was injured from running at that moment. Usually you don’t see many people with type one diabetes doing sport at a level of running like national championships and winning European championships, so he could see I was first an athlete who happens to have diabetes.

I think he felt a connection with me and we started riding together. I’d never ridden more than two hours in my life and with him I went on a four hours ride and I was actually fine. He was like ‘oh, you are strong on the bike!’

I then went back running, but I got injured again. I decided to make contact with Martijn again and he asked if I’d like to go on training camp with Team Novo Nordisk. He told the team about me and they invited me to join them in Spain in 2015. I took this incredible opportunity and trained with the Devo team. 

I wasn’t there for a contract or to become a cyclist. I was there because I was an injured runner that likes cycling. I come from a cycling family, my dad used to be an elite cyclist and my uncle was a national champion but I was different in the sense that although I liked cycling, I have always seen running as my real passion. I never considered becoming  a professional cyclist. But the experience at training camp was amazing and when they offered me a contract to join the Development team, I told myself: “Why not?”

I don’t know if you had lots of time to reflect yet, but are you grateful for the cycling career that you’ve had then? it’s not something you dreamt of, but are you grateful for the experience you’ve had?

Yeah, that’s for sure. When I first joined there were 16 guys in the team. At first it was strange to me to see 16 guys with diabetes. It was really interesting. I learnt a lot from the more experienced guys with regards to diabetes management, and only later I became the one who helps and educates the younger ones a bit. I am really grateful for that, I learnt a lot of life lessons and knowledge in  these years with the team.

Plus I travelled a lot! My first two years with the team I travelled to Australia, US, Canada, Mexico, China, Taiwan, Philippines, – so many countries. There are people at 80 years old who have never travelled to so many countries in their whole lives and I did it in two years. I am really grateful for that too,  and for all the people I met along the way. 

What has it meant to you to inspire the diabetes community through your career?

To be honest, I was not always aware of the impact. 

I shared a post on Instagram about my retirement. I received so many messages, it was overwhelming. . . I received messages from people who I have met at races, or during my training rides  One person messaged me, he said I gave his son my gloves after the race and had a big impact on him. For me it was a very spontaneous gesture, I never thought it could have a real impact on someone else. 

I fully understood that  people did get inspired by me, that I had an impact on them.I actually mean something to people. I must admit, I did get emotional and let go of a few tears. 

Is there one memory in particular you would like to share with us? One moment that had a big impact in your career and life?

I remember an event for Novo Nordisk with fans of the team who live with diabetes. We were riding up the Stelvio in Italy. Their families were waiting for them at the top of the climb and when we arrived at the finish, they all broke down crying. 

I was standing there wondering what the big deal was.  I realized then that they were all living with type 2 diabetes and they didn’t think it was possible to do a challenge like climbing the Stelvio. Until that day. 

It made me think how sometimes you’re so deep in the  professional sport  that you take the condition and its management for granted, and  don’t fully see what people are going through. That moment taught me a lot, I’ll remember it  forever.

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