This is me: Heidi Loke
Heidi Løke is more than just a handball player. She's a mother. A mother that lives for her children but also for handball. After returning to play in the EHF Champions League six days after she gave birth to her first child, many people in the game raised their eyebrows. They felt a mother should be with her newly-born baby and not playing handball. But what do they know? Here, Heidi tells us in her own words the reasons for her decision and explains how she juggles family life and a career at the very top.
This is me: Heidi Løke
The late bloomer who did it her way
I was what you call a late bloomer.
I started to play handball when I was 10 years old. It was really fun, but I was not one of the best. It took a really long time before I started to get better, but I really loved the game and to train.
Then I started with handball in a school, a gymnasium, but I was still not one of the best. I was never playing in the youth national team or anything like this.
It was when I was 18 years old that I realised that I had to do something with this — I really love this. I started to play a bit more and I started to train two times each day. I was not in such good physical shape but after I started to train two times a day I saw that my physical shape got much better.
I was with the club Gjerpen for five years and during this time, I decided that I wanted to be in the best physical shape possible. I searched the physical reports of the national team and found out who had the best physical test results, and then it was my big goal — the main goal — to reach these test results.
When I was 24 or 25, I got my first national team training camp, but I never played any matches. In 2006, I got my first national team match, but this was because they took a double team, I think around 40 players or something like this, to travel to Sweden and Hungary for some matches. I travelled to Hungary and played two matches against their national team.
After this I didn’t play a national team match until 2008, so I was a really late bloomer.
I think it was the physical training that finally saw me become a core part of the national team, because I felt that when I was in really good physical shape it helped me on the court.
Also, when I was around 12 years old, I started to throw with the left hand, because I saw that my brother Frank — he also played in the national team — did it after he injured his right shoulder. He just taped this shoulder and played with only the left. So then I started really young to throw with both hands. I watched him a lot. I was in the hall often.
Frank was a really good player from when he was young – when he started to play, he was one of the best. We were very different. Everyone says we have the same way of playing on the line. But I was not a line player before – I was a right back and a middle back before I was a line player.
It was in school, when I was around 16 years old, we had seven girls in our class that played handball and we didn’t have any line players. We had players in every position and two right backs. At that time the teachers said, “because your brother is a line player, you can go and be a line player.”
So I started to play line player. It was fun, but I wanted to be a back player and I did still play as a middle back a little after that. But finally, I stuck with being a line player — I enjoyed being on the line and I think it was good that I had been a back player because it was easy for me to read the movements.
Before I became a part of the core national team, I went to my first club outside Norway, to Aalborg in Denmark. When I moved, I was pregnant with my older son Alexander. He will be 14 years old this year. I gave birth to him in August and I started the contract with Aalborg in August, so I was really fast back on the court.
When I started to train six days after I gave birth, I had some negative comments. Some women said to me, “this is not good. You have to stay with the baby.” But if I’m training when he’s sleeping, he doesn’t know that I have training! This also helped me to be a good mum…I love to train and I love to play handball and it gives me extra energy for the kids.
I think it’s very important to speak about this. This is my experience, and I know all pregnancies are very different. I didn’t have any complications or these kinds of things. My body was really good after the pregnancy – of course it changed, like everybody else, but this is what I felt was best for me. Maybe it’s not best for everybody else, but it was good for me.
While I was pregnant, I trained normally and I spoke with a lot of doctors because, at that time, there were not so many other women in sport that were pregnant — especially in handball, I didn’t know so many. I spoke with a lot of doctors and they helped, for example, to ensure that my body was used to training a lot. If you are in good shape, the baby is also in good shape. I could not play handball. I knew that I was pregnant after seven weeks and I stopped playing handball right away, but I trained the physical side.
Six days after giving birth I was out running 20 minutes in Aalborg and it was going OK, and then the day after I was at handball training. I think this was possible because I trained well during the pregnancy and I didn’t have any complications or anything during the birth, and I also had doctors taking care of me.
Female athletes becoming mothers during their careers — this is something that has changed.
I now know a lot of players who have children. I was 24 years old when I gave birth the first time and I didn’t want to stop playing. I remember everybody around was saying, “no, you can’t play handball anymore and I was like, ‘why not?’” For me, I wanted to play and this was also my job so I wanted to do this, and I was in really good shape. After I gave birth, I was in better shape than ever.
I also think that for me it was really good to be training because early on the baby sleeps a lot and takes a lot of energy. But when I would go out for running or do some gym or do some handball training it gave me extra energy, so it was really good for my mental health also — you should be the best version of you to be the best mother you can be.
Since he was born, Alexander was with me all the time, including with the national team. They have been excellent. I think the Norwegian Federation were one of the first that allowed children to come with us to the championships also. Alexander has been at all championships. This is really amazing that they do this.
I was one of the first that played so many years in the national team to have their child at the championships. Alexander was always with me and I think it’s been very good for him also. He has been travelling a lot and before he started school, he could be with me everywhere. When he started school, he could not go for a whole championship, so he would maybe come for a week or something.
When I was playing for Györ he started a Hungarian school. He speaks Hungarian and he has some really good friends in Hungary also. I think he had a really good experience that not so many children will have. He wrote to me directly after we qualified for the FINAL4 that, “I want to go with you to Budapest. I can be your translator! Please ask your coach so that I can come with you.”
We really enjoyed being in Hungary. We really loved to live there. The people there, the friendships — we will always have very close friends from there. I’m so happy when I hear him in the room and he’s speaking Hungarian with his friends. Also, he learned another culture; got to know other people. With this, I saw he learned to really care for other people in a different way and this is a good lesson.
Now, Alexander is almost 14 and he is also playing handball and he enjoys this. He always watches my matches when I play Champions League and he really loves this. Maybe sometimes people think this can be too much for children — that he has been so much in the hall and seen so much handball, but he really loves it. And I think it’s important to be in a team – to learn from others, to have good friendships and to learn to work together, so this gives him good values for life.
In 2017, I gave birth to my younger son, Oscar, on 30 June, and then he was only four and a half months old when we went to Germany for the World Championship, so he was there with me all the time. In 2018 in France, he was with me for some days. For me, I could not have travelled to the championships without this.
My family have been helping me a lot, so a main thing was having really good people around also. I need to have people who help me when I’m going to championships.
My family means everything to me. I have five brothers and one sister, so we are seven. My mother and father had six children in seven years, so we are very close in the age also. I am the same as my mother — she also recovered from giving birth really fast.
I have four older brothers and one younger. I was the first girl in the family — I am number five — and they treated me the same even though I was a girl, which is good. You learn to be around other people, how you should treat each other and how you should be with other people. My mother and father always helped a lot and we are very close, all of my family.
What else can I tell you that you might not know? You might know that I have published a book, Never Give Up. I chose this title related to what I said earlier — that I was never a child star. I was not so good, but I really loved to play handball. I had some coaches that said that I was too small to be a line player. It’s not so nice to hear this from your coach, that you are 10 cm too small to be a line player – this is nothing I can do anything with.
After this, I said to myself that I would show this coach that he is so wrong and I will train so hard with the physical side cause even if I’m not so tall, I can be strong and fast and move correctly on the line.
When I started to play, we had a lot of players over 180 cm, so it was not so normal to have such small and fast players like Stine [Oftedal] and Nora [Mørk]. I think they also heard when they were younger that they were small, and that’s what I really love about handball: that this sport is for everybody. I think it’s good to show that, with really good physical training and using your qualities, you can reach really far. You just have to do things your way – I cannot do the same as a line player who is 190 cm. I had to find my way of playing.
I tell a lot of young players that you have to believe in yourself – don’t let anybody ruin your dream. That’s why I wrote this book: to help young players achieve their dreams. Never give up – as I said, I was never in the youth national team, I was really a late bloomer. If you are not in the national team when you are around 20, you might be there when you are 26, like me.
Just be sure to do things your way.