The Journal in the Netherlands welcome

The Journal in the Netherlands: welcome

HEERENVEEN | A bottle thrown into the sea in the spring of 2019 has blossomed into a great friendship story that continues to grow between a Quebec family and a Dutch family.

• Also read: Laurent Dubreuil: history within reach

• Also read: Laurent Dubreuil: Nightmare of Fame

Since Speed​​Skating Canada (PVC) did not cover the expenses of its athletes at the Sprint World Championships held in Heerenveen, as was customary in competitions held at distance according to the world, Laurent Dubreuil wrote on his social networks, that he was looking for a roof.

So he did in 2017 in Stavanger, Norway, for the World Cup final.

His first experiences were positive and he decided to try his luck again for the Sprint World Championships.

In a country where long-distance speed skating is the national winter sport, Dubreuil quickly received dozens of replies from Good Samaritans willing to open the doors of their homes for him.

“I got 40 replies within half a day,” he said. To make my choice, I had a few criteria. I have asthma and can’t live in a house with dogs or cats, and I didn’t want to live more than a mile or two from the Ring to cycle there. »

Instant connection

The chemistry worked from the first meeting with the Bijlsma family.

“We became friends immediately. I had my own room as three of their four daughters had moved out which freed up space and they didn’t charge me. Exactly one of her daughters shared my message with her parents to gauge her interest. It was a coincidence. »

“I spared no money and could have paid,” added the Lévisien, but it really allowed me to have a great experience and develop a great story. »

Fragrances of 2015

As thanks, Dubreuil brought maple syrup and bought shopping cards for his hosts.

Speed ​​skating enthusiasts like the vast majority of the Netherlands’ 17 million inhabitants, Auk and Willemien Bijlsma were present in Thialf in 2015 for Dubreuil’s first medal at the World Distance Championships.

“They knew me by name, but nothing more. They remembered that I had won a medal. They’re ice skaters, but their daughters, who are my age, didn’t skate. You could be my parents. »

growing friendship

The bonds have only grown stronger over the years. Dubreuil spends time with the Bijlsma when he stops in Heerenveen for a while.

During the 2020 World Cup final, the Dutch couple welcomed Andréanne, Laurent’s wife, and their less than one-year-old daughter Rose.

“Andréanne knows three of her four daughters who compete in the races and the parents send Rose a present in the post for Christmas. In 2020 my parents were also present in the world and they had welcomed us all.

“One night they have season tickets and they had all cycled to the Premier League football game against Ajax and I stayed home with Rose to prepare for my race the next day. Andréanne and Rose can’t wait to see them and we speak to each other on Skype several times a year. »

Also this year Dubreuil’s wife, who was pregnant at the time of his first visit in 2019, his daughter and new child Nathan will stay with the Bijlsma during the championship.

Fears quickly dispelled

Laurent Dubreuil, in Thialf, accompanied by the Bijlsma family, in Heerenveen, the Netherlands.

Photo provided by Willemien and Auke Bijlsma

Laurent Dubreuil, in Thialf, accompanied by the Bijlsma family, in Heerenveen, the Netherlands.

If the reflection on whether or not to receive Laurent Dubreuil lasted only 20 seconds, Auke and Willemien Bijlsma had certain concerns about the possible requests of a high-profile skater, since the Dutch are treated with small onions.

During a lavish interview that took place at the Canadian team’s hotel – the same where the skaters were staying in the 2021 World Championships in the Heerenveen bubble – La Bijlsma shared their first thoughts after agreeing to welcome the skater from Lévis to welcome.

“Some Dutch skaters use a special mattress when traveling and rely on their own cook,” Willemien mentions from the start. I asked Laurent what he needs. A bike and a room, he replied. »

“I was nervous too,” adds the father. What should he eat and what should he avoid? We said to ourselves, if he’s successful, the food will affect it, and the same if the results weren’t so good. Laurent is really not complicated. »

As a sports fan who followed long-distance speed skating, Auke couldn’t believe a high-profile skater needed to find a roof over his head during the time of competitions.

“With the Dutch, everything is planned and nothing is taken care of, while the Canadians had to find a place to sleep. It was my great pleasure to offer Laurent comfortable accommodation. We just wanted to help. »

This story resonated with the Dutch media, who were also in disbelief at the situation Canadians found themselves in.

Newspapers and state television (NOS) picked up the story.

“The media had contacted us and didn’t believe that a skater of Laurent’s level should look for accommodation and still perform successfully,” Willemien said. It’s amazing what Laurent has accomplished alone in a country that doesn’t have the same tradition of speed skating as here. »

great moment of pride

Since all World Cups took place before the World Championships this year and there are no Sprint World Championships, all costs for the athletes were covered by the SSC.

Bijlsma was proud of the consecration of Dubreuil, who sealed his first 500m overall World Cup title in Heerenveen last year.

“It was incredible and I was so proud,” said Auke. It’s amazing to see how he’s developed over the years. I was proud for the first time in 2019, but even prouder last year. And if the results weren’t to his liking, I’d be proud too. »

The parents are there again this year with their four daughters and proudly show the colors of Canada in an orange-colored sea.

“The Dutch support their skaters, but they also respect foreign skaters who play at a high level. »

fear of flying

The Dutch couple would love to discover the joys of the Quebec winter by visiting the Dubreuil family, but the father is trapped.

“I want to go to Quebec, but I’m afraid to fly,” said the Bijlsma family’s father. I would need a pill to sleep. I would like to go there in winter because we don’t have any more here with global warming. »

Similarities between Quebec and Friesland

This human experience could have ended after Laurent Dubreuil returned to Canada in 2019, but on the contrary, it has evolved over the years.

As the Thialf is the mecca of long track skating around the world, Heerenveen hosts one big event every year and sometimes two.

“In that kind of experience you see each other once and sometimes it’s over,” agrees the Bijlsma family father, but Laurent knows he’s always welcome. »

“We have a good connection all year round and we love Andréanne,” adds Auke. It was special when she came for the first time since she was pregnant. »

Similar reality

In the eyes of Willemien, another element connects the two families.

“There are several similarities between Quebec and Friesland,” she points out. In both cases we share a different language and culture than the countries we live in. In both cases we have our own identities and traditions and this adds an extra element to our connection. »

With almost 6000 square kilometers, Friesland is the largest of the 12 Dutch provinces and has its own language.

There are almost 700,000 inhabitants and the capital is Leeuwarden.

During our interview, coach Remmelt Eldering passed our table to greet Dubreuil and exchanged a few words in Friese with Auke and Willemien.

Born in Friesland, Eldering joined Speed ​​Skating Canada in 2008, returning to his home country in 2015 before returning to Calgary Oval in 2019 where he oversees the women’s program.

Toque in the colors of Friesland

Appreciated by the Dutch, Dubreuil repays them by always wearing his Frisian-colored tuque before his races.

“I wore it for the first time in my first World Cup in 2012, but I was in Group B and nobody noticed. Wearing this hood makes me happy, takes away my stress and lets me experience the sick atmosphere that prevails in Thialf. That gives me energy and the audience is happy. I only have good memories of my races here. »

Her earliest memories of Heerenveen date back to her teenage years, when her parents Robert Dubreuil and Ariane Loignon – who both competed in the Olympic Speed ​​Skating Games – shared some of the good times of their careers with their offspring.

“We would have late dinners at home with four or five services and my parents would tell their skating stories,” Dubreuil recalls. These stories made me dream, are part of my fond memories of my youth and made me want to pursue a career. »