A Running Existence in Barcelona

Made in Maastricht: Koen Willems

Koen Willems

As owner of Running Barcelona, 39-year-old Koen Willems never knows quite how his week will turn out, yet these last few weeks were especially hectic. “It’s been a busy period. With the birth of our second daughter on 25 April, my parents-in-law came over for an extended visit from my wife’s native country Argentina.”

Born in Geldrop in 1977, he grew up near Eindhoven. At the age of 18, he moved to Nijmegen where he studied Physiotherapy at the University of Applied Sciences. Why did he choose to continue his studies in Maastricht after that vocational course? “I found the Physiotherapy programme rather limited: there was too much emphasis on what to do, and too little focus on the person you were treating”. The Maastricht programme was therefore a good option.

He was 23 when he started at Maastricht, and he was a quick student. Active in his work, active in his studies, active outside his studies. A typical student? He laughs, “Well, when I was in Nijmegen I was the first student to be nominated for employee of the year. I worked for the Sports Council and was the first student at a University of Applied Sciences to receive a grant for doing student representative work”.

Was he as active in Maastricht? “I worked for a year as a volunteer for the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), and between March 2001 and June 2002, I worked as a physiotherapist on what was then one of the first reality TV programmes against obesity, Big Diet (Endemol Producties)”.

In 2008, five years after graduating and after a stint at the Maartenskliniek, he moved to Barcelona. For love, what else? His Argentinian wife had difficulties with the organised lifestyle in the Netherlands; the Spanish culture suited her South American background far more.

How is life in Barcelona different? “In the Netherlands the pace is so much faster, often too fast”. Laughing: “In Barcelona you might see a person sitting outside a café enjoying a cup of coffee between 9 or 10 in the morning. And that same person will be back in the afternoon at around 4, but with a glass of wine. In the Netherlands we would be shocked. In Barcelona they ask: “How do you manage it?” and people would envy this person’s freedom. The Netherlands is a fantastic country which offers all kinds of choices; you can get ahead in life, but the pressure is enormous, maybe because there is so much choice”.“Naturally, this culture has its consequences too”, he adds. “In general, the level of efficiency is lower and people tend to shift responsibility onto others”.

And the financial crisis in Spain? He moved to Spain when the crisis was at its most severe. That was when he started his company Running Barcelona. "It did well from the beginning. Perhaps part of the crisis could be explained by the attitude of the people here. People are less proactive, they examine themselves less critically. A system like PBL, they find that hard to understand. Taking responsibility? There’s usually someone else to blame”.

Running Barcelona is a multidisciplinary centre: running, coaching, training and of course physiotherapy. Does he still have time to run? “Sure, but I stick to my own rule which is that you should always maintain a balance between what your body can manage and what’s feasible. Train with the appropriate intensity; it doesn’t always need to be your best performance. Sport at top level often uses up an unnecessary amount of energy”. Dutch sportsmen and women also frequent his centre, some to raise their performance, others to regain a sense of balance in their life. “For some it’s about technique, but it can also be simply about enjoying the moment”.

Close your eyes and think back to Maastricht, what do you see? “All kinds of memories come back; I’m walking in Wyck, towards the Maas and I see the old bridge in front of me. And I see Awwe Stiene, where we used to party”, he laughs. “And of course the wonderful countryside around Maastricht where I spent so much time cycling and running”.

Koen Willem graduated in 2003, from Work and Health (MSc)

Denise Villerius, Alumni Officer
June 2016