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Retired boxer Arnold Vanderlyde: ‘Keep moving, literally and figuratively’

Boxing is in vogue, so who better to open Healthy University Week on 28 October than retired boxer Arnold Vanderlyde. In an interactive presentation, he spoke about the lessons that he learnt during his sporting career.

Now 56, Vanderlyde won bronze three times at the Olympics, and was European champion three times and Netherlands champion eight times. He was a professional boxer for 14 years, from 1978 to 1992.

Healthy University 2019 Arnold Vanderlyde
1978. As a youngster, Arnold often trained in his parents’ shed, which had a punch bag hanging from the ceiling. Once he’d removed the bikes, Arnold was free to practise his punches.


Vanderlyde’s boxing career went from strength to strength, but it wasn’t always plain sailing. For instance, in six decisive fights, his opponent was Cuban boxer Félix Savón, whom he never managed to beat. Savón went on to win Olympic gold. Didn’t it make him feel despondent? ‘Winning and losing are part of sport, and of life,’ says Vanderlyde. ‘You have to be able to take it on the chin. Adversity made me stronger and made me more determined to win. I stood tall as a boxer then and as a person now.’

Top sport is not just a physical matter, but it’s a mental state too: perseverance, self-discipline, the will to win and the ability to dust yourself off and carry on after a disappointment. ‘Talent alone is not enough. Mental strength is at least as important,’ says Vanderlyde. There are examples enough in the sporting world of lost, sometimes big talents who didn’t have the right mindset, he says.   

Professional footballer

Vanderlyde started boxing at the age of 15. That wasn’t the obvious choice because his dream was to become a professional footballer. His father kicked his children out of the house, in a manner of speaking, to do sport; it was part of their upbringing. Vanderlyde began with athletics, but football was his real passion. He took to the boxing ring because he thought it would make him a better footballer. Boxing requires agility, and Vanderlyde thought this would help with football. But then he discovered that he had a talent for boxing.

Healthy University 2019 Arnold Vanderlyde
Arnold Vanderlyde now.

No regrets

Vanderlyde easily picked up the techniques and improved at such a rapid rate that he was allowed to enter his first match at the age of 16 and had soon secured a place on the Dutch youth squad. By then he was – albeit with little motivation – attending a vocational school. ‘That wasn’t easy because I hated school and was a difficult little so-and-so.’ Although it took quite some time, Vanderlyde did manage to finish school and leave with a qualification as a construction fitter.

Three years later he would win his first bronze medal at the Olympics. That it was pure chance that he discovered the boxing ring taught him something: ‘Try all sorts of different sports. You may not immediately choose the sport that suits you best.’ Vanderlyde has never regretted choosing boxing, ‘In retrospect, I know that I’d never have become a top footballer. I wasn’t good enough.’

Healthy University 2019 Arnold Vanderlyde
Vanderlyde’s first official publicity shot. He was 17 at the time.

Other modes of learning

Vanderlyde thinks it is a shame that he wasn’t exposed to different modes of learning at school. ‘I think I would have been much more open to learning if it was linked to things that I liked. And I think that the same is still true today. You can teach schoolchildren that four plus three is seven. But you can also put four balls in a row and ask children to add three more. That’s much more appealing and they are much more likely to remember it too.’

Vanderlyde decided at the age of 18 that he would become a professional boxer. ‘But I was also called up for military service. Luckily, I had top-athlete status and was given an easy job.’ That was running the company bar. ‘You could get coffee there in the morning and beer at night. I got to train in the afternoon.’

‘Fighting for Success’

When his sporting career ended, Vanderlyde had to find his way in life once again. He decided to study sport management and marketing, ‘That too was a learning experience. I set up my own events company. I have carried on learning and working on my personal development ever since. I now mainly give talks and presentations.’ The overarching name for Vanderlyde’s activities is Fighting for Success. Each of the letters from Fighting stands for a word, from the F (for fysiek, physical) right up to the G (for geluk, happiness, and gezondheid, health).

He sees ‘movement’ as the key to everything. ‘I learnt in the ring that if you keep moving you are least likely to get hit. I began to see this as a metaphor for life. Keep moving, keep developing, don’t stand still. That makes you – another lesson – more resilient in life and more able to roll with the punches.’

Healthy University 2019 Arnold Vanderlyde
At a big international competition in the former GDR in 1987. Vanderlyde was the only West-European to win a medal. The other medals all went to East Germans, Russians and Cubans: boxers from communist states.
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