“The whole journey of the ’11stedenzwemtocht’ was such a precious experience”

Francien van Kampen talks about her journey as the sponsorship manager of the 11stedenzwemtocht of Olympic open water swimmer Maarten van der Weijden

The picture of two extremely wrinkled feet on a stretcher is still in everybody’s mind. An image full of meaning. An image with a story. Last summer, Maarten van der Weijden swam his long-cherished 200 km event 11stedenzwemtocht through Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands, to raise money for cancer research. It became a heroic journey that captivated the entire country for two days. The former Olympic swimming champion did not make it to the finish line but, after 163 kilometers and 55 hours of freestyle, he raised five million euros for his foundation.

francien van kampen - The whole journey of the 11stedenzwemtocht was such a precious experience - Johan Cruyff InstituteIt was an almost supernatural achievement. A feat that could not be achieved on his own. A whole team was behind the organization. One of those team members was Francien van Kampen. Francien previously worked at VodafoneZiggo as a senior sport sponsorship manager and decided to join the Maarten van der Weijden Foundation as sponsorship manager of the 11stedenzwemtocht last year, after she had obtained her Master in Sport Management diploma at the Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam. It became the decision of her life.

“I didn’t want to miss a single moment,” says Francien, full of emotion. “We have worked so hard with this group. A journey that was not always easy, but to look around at Franeker, a small village in Friesland, to see lines of people standing on the side and to realize that Maarten was making his dream come true … That is why I have been giving my all these last 12 months. The event was party of the people with a fantastic result. I am extremely proud of Maarten’s amazing achievement, the donation amount achieved and of being part of this team.”

Last year, the sponsorship specialist sat down with the Olympic swimming champion to discuss the idea and didn’t have to think twice about this new challenge. “It is absolutely amazing to work together with such a passionate person as Maarten and to be able to contribute to bringing his dream to life. For me, it was unique to be involved from a very early stage. Being able to brainstorm, form an idea and convert the idea into execution has been a unique opportunity. This whole journey has been such a precious experience.”

“The organization of the 11stedenzwemtocht had to be built from scratch”

Previously, the passionate Cruyff alumna worked at VodafoneZiggo and was, among other things, responsible for the sponsorship contract with AFC Ajax and PSV. How did Francien experience the transition to a foundation? “Whereas organizational structures, lines of communication, policy and procedures were an organized part of business management, the organization of the 11stedenzwemtocht had to be built from scratch. At VodafoneZiggo I was part of a sponsorship team, but at the foundation the sponsorship department consisted of me, myself and I. It was an incredible training ground to be in the middle of the development and it was great to be able to spar with the other team members, the board and Maarten. It was a unique opportunity to think about how to give substance to a growing volunteer organization.”

The whole journey of the 11stedenzwemtocht was such a precious experience - Johan Cruyff Institute

An important lesson that the driven professional has continually kept in mind when organizing this event is that you should always expect the unexpected. “If you are not prepared for the unexpected then you are not prepared to advance in the sports industry. After months of preparation and hard work, one day before the start of the event, it became known that the City Swims, the local 11stedenzwemtocht events, could not continue because of the high content of the E. coli bacterium in the swimming water. How that lesson come in handy! A lesson I learned during my studies at Johan Cruyff Institute.”

“I have realized that an unexpected step can be of so much added value for your personal development”

Despite her enormous wealth of experience and track record, Francien decided in 2016 to study the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute. A choice that not everyone in her personal life could understand well. “Many were surprised. Why should I go back to studying at my age and with a good job in the sports industry? What would be the added value of that? Looking back, it has become a tremendously educational and very special year. I have learned to look at the sport business in a different way and I have literally got out of my comfort zone. I have realized that a unexpected and non-logical step can be of so much added value for your personal development, insights, behavior and how you deal with situations. Being open to others, learning from others, dealing with the unexpected and unknown, not fearing but stepping in and knowing that getting to know new people and gaining more experience is a great gift.”

Meanwhile, the emotional swim was already two months ago and five million euros has been raised. This means that the goal of obtaining as much money as possible for cancer research has been more than achieved. What is the plan of the sports professional living in Haarlem? “Over the past 13 months, I have worked incredibly hard with a lot of energy and with full commitment and dedication to help Maarten achieve his ultimate dream. It was great to be part of a pioneering team of professionals and being able to work in several fields that are very important to me: sport, sponsorship and event management. Now, after this unbelievable experience, it is time for me to look for a new challenge. But I will never completely let go of the foundation and Maarten, never.”


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