What thoughts go through Steffen Wirgs’ mind while he’s waiting for that liberating starting signal? None whatsoever. “The focus is entirely on the race”, he says. “You need to have as little as possible on your mind. If your mind’s not free, it’s all over.” What the 22-year-old competitive athlete means by “all” are the countless hours of training that go into preparing for the competitions.
Steffen Wirgs is in the water seven to ten times a week. Depending on the training cycle, his alarm goes off at 5 am on some days, and half an hour later he’s on the starting block of the pool at his club, SV Gladbeck 13. After that it’s off to STEAG in Essen, where he started out as a work and study student and is now part of the purchasing team.
The dual study program appealed to Steffen Wirgs from the word go. During the day he was involved in a variety of hands-on projects, before broadening his knowledge at the private FOM University of Applied Sciences in the evenings. “My focus was on business administration, economics and management”, the young man explains. “It was brilliant being able to put theory directly into practice in my day-to-day work at STEAG, and I was assigned a great deal of responsibility right from the start. The support I received from the company can by no means be taken for granted either. It’s never been a problem accommodating my sport and my job – especially at times when I was competing.” And there have been plenty of competitions during his lifetime.
Born on 15 December 1996, Steffen Wirgs became a member of Gladbeck swimming club the very next day. Which is hardly surprising, having two keen swimmers as parents. He took part in his first competition at the age of eight, and went on to compete in numerous finals and win a variety of prizes. But it was at the age of 16 that he won his first really big medal: bronze in the 200 m butterfly at the German Junior Championships.
On the other hand, being a sportsman means that he’s also learned how to handle defeat. At his first German Championships in 2012 he quickly took the lead in the 200 m butterfly race, but was unable to maintain the pace over the final stretch and missed out on a medal by a whisker. Just six hundredths of a second separated him from third place. “That’s all part of competing. You don’t give up, and you bounce back all the stronger for it.” With passion, with heart and soul, and, above all, with the stamina that it takes to cope with the normality of life in the fast lane.