Marc Evers is the Netherlands' most successful Paralympic swimming champion and ambassador of the Dutch Autism Association (NVA). We spoke to Marc, his father Frank and his sister Amber about his path to gold and the prejudices and setbacks the family has overcome.
Marc was born in Hillegom in 1991 and was diagnosed with autism and an intellectual disability at the age of two. His parents had to take into account that he would never learn to talk, read, write, let alone function independently in society.
Marc's parents Frank and Gitty Evers did not leave it at that. As the second in a family with four children, they always encouraged Marc as much as possible to 'just' participate in the family, despite the many stimuli, which were difficult for him to filter. Frank and Gitty turned every moment into a learning moment. Frank: ‘Marc was very eager to learn and wanted to move forward. Little by little he learned the basic skills'.
Marc obtained his swimming diploma with a lot of one-on-one attention. Marc: 'Around the age of eleven I started to realize that I was pretty good at it, I was the best.' At first Marc competed on people with disabilities, but he wanted more. To get better, he had to compete with swimmers without disabilities. At the regular swimming clubs in the region they refused him, without wanting to meet him, without seeing his talent. Finally, Wim ten Wolde of swimming club ZV Haerlem gave him a chance. To keep up, he had to train more often and for longer. Marc: 'I pushed myself, had to make sacrifices.'
The right coach
At a young age Marc came into contact with prejudices when you are 'different'. Getting a chance and having someone who believes in you can really make all the difference. ‘Since then I have learned that if people have prejudices, that’s their problem,’ Marc says.
Coach Ten Wolde was clear in his communication, strict, relaxed and had previously swam competitions himself. That was exactly what Marc needed. Marc has two positions, full throttle and no throttle and a coach has to match that in the right way.
Marc decided to devote himself completely to swimming. ‘That was quite a risk, because in society you need a diploma for everything. But I saw it as an opportunity.' And not without result. At the age of seventeen he swam his first European Championship and in 2011, at the age of twenty, Marc was awarded the ‘A’ status as a top athlete.
Source of inspiration
Marc is an example for many athletes with special needs. His sister Amber says: 'He continues to develop, both in sports and privately. Always persevere, do not give up, that is his success factor but also his pitfall. Sometimes he asks too much of himself and the pressure has to be temporarily removed. Marc works through his schedules, will not miss any part. Yoga has helped him to take that rest every now and then.'
Marc: 'I used to be the child that needed special attention and guidance, but now I can take care of myself. I can read, but not write, everything I write is more like a drawing. I live independently and got my driver's license. The most important thing I have learned here is 'expect the unexpected'. This helps me on a daily basis in putting suddenly changing situations into perspective, which would previously cause me to panic. Eventually I will learn things, but everything takes a little longer with me.
The sport has also taught Marc a lot on a social level. 'How to deal with teammates from different backgrounds, communication with my coach and last but not least the journalists. That is very valuable in sport, but also for my development as a person.'
Not the end of the world
According to the swimmer, the diagnosis of autism is not the end of the world. 'What matters to me is that people with a diagnosis are immediately dismissed. In society there is a tendency to categorize everything, but that is not the case with autism. The spectrum is so broad, no person with autism is the same.'
Marc and his family are constantly looking for opportunities. That makes him a source of inspiration for both athletes and non-athletes. Father Frank: 'With Marc, we have always assumed what he can do, instead of what he cannot. When they asked us at his first medical nursery where we thought he would end up, I replied: 'I don't expect anything at all, get started with him and we'll see where we end up!''
Marc is on the eve of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. He is ready, but also knows that it will be difficult. 'The differences are small, you have to show it at that moment. What am I going to do after Tokyo? I'll look at that after the Games, I'll keep everything open.' If the Brunel Foundation slogan 'Don't judge talent by its cover' applies to anyone, it is Marc Evers. His story is special and inspiring.
We wish 'Marc the Shark' a lot of success in Tokyo!