It’s hard to know where to begin with Sandra Stammova. She has such a diverse range of interests, a huge number of accomplishments and moreover, she is just AMAZING to talk to. Her lust for life, adrenaline highs and success are awe-inspiring and having interviewed her previously, for a motorcycle magazine, I leapt at the chance to partake in a far more free-flowing, unconstrained piece. After reading this interview, I guarantee that you will either want to go get your bike licence, or be best friends with Sandra, just to get a taste of the excitement and energy that fuels her everyday life.
1. You have had, what I would consider to be, an unconventional career to date, which has included being an internationally renowned motorcycle racer, highly qualified businesswoman through to enjoying a fantastic modelling career. When did you first realise that you would not be a ‘9-5’ woman?
You are right, I have got very unusual background for a female… As you probably know, from my CV, I have been doing adrenaline sports and sport in general since I was a child. My parents taught me alpine skiing from when I could first walk and that became my number 1 sport between the ages of 11-12, when I started to do it at a competitive level. I also trained in tennis since I was 5, as my parents planned for me to become a tennis player. Outside of that I did gymnastics, played basketball and enjoyed volleyball within a primary school league.
My family is extremely sporty and my parents were very encouraging regarding sport. Outside of that, I was a normal child and I had to go to school, which I didn’t enjoy at all, but it had to be done. My mum always expected me to have good marks and study well to be able to go to good secondary school, which would be my entrance to university. Education is “A MUST” in our family, I had no choice and no option to complain, I had to do what was expected from me, to be able to do what I really wanted. While I was studying, I became the youngest ski instructor at the age 16. When I was 24 I was already qualified as an international ski instructor, coach and snowboard instructor. I was running a ski school, working as a ski coach and as an educator, mentor and lecturer. That was a year before I finished my engineering degree in Prague, Czech Republic.
You can see that my intention was far from planning to have a normal job, though I guess that depends what you consider as normal… I LOVE SPORT and my dream has always been to become a professional athlete, with the vision of being involved in sport after I finish my performance career. To be honest, I was scared I would have to have a job and use my brain instead of my skills… ha ha ha! I knew I wanted to do something special, something what would eventually make a difference and that’s what I have been working on since I found racing in New Zealand.
I went to New Zealand, after I finished university, to study English and visit my father for 3 months. I never came back ‘home’. I have lived in 4 countries since then and am currently in South Africa. Everything I have done for last 7 years of my life has been based on my belief in my destiny. I want to make a positive difference to people’s lives through and outside of my racing career. I have got a plan. To cut a long story short, I knew since I was a small girl that I wouldn’t have a typical job. I really admire all people for what they do and no job is better or worse in my eyes. I understand some people don’t have the best opportunities in their life, but I believe we should always fight for what we believe in and work towards creating the right opportunities for us and to not waste our talent. Life is too short to live it the way we don’t want to.
2. Do you think that the current resurgence of feminism is a good thing and will encourage more young girls to develop into strong women? Did you have a strong female influence in your life?
That’s a very interesting question Amy…
I will tell you my personal opinion on this. I believe men and women are equal. I respect men in the same way I respect women. I am not a fan of being against men and in the same way I don’t like it when men treat women with little respect, like we are less important human beings. It’s the same as the way I am against racism or any discrimination relating to gender or the human race and I believe there wouldn’t be feminism if we women were accepted in the same way as men. It is true that this world is a mans world and I believe its based on the history of human beings; the role of man used to be hunting and making sure that family is taken care of, while the woman’s role was giving birth and looking after the household and children. I think it was a good system at the time, with what people had, but times have changed. We are in the 21st century and we have a lot more than they had hundreds of years ago. Men and women have the same opportunities regarding education or sport, so I can’t see any reason why women can’t be as educated, smart or successful as men.
It all depends upon individuals, not a gender or skin colour. I agree there are certain types of jobs and businesses which men or woman are more suitable for, because we think differently, but it doesn’t mean we can’t both learn, adjust and succeed at what we really want. I definitely agree it’s not easy for women to get respect in a mans world though and I feel like we women need to prove ourselves more to get the same job or opportunity. On the other hand, it can be good for us as we work harder and become stronger after we achieve our goals. There are certain areas, like very physical activities based on strength instead of skill, where we can’t compete against men of course. There is no chance that the strongest or fastest female can be stronger or faster than the strongest or fastest male, our physique is not built that way.
But I believe we can be as good as any man at any sport or job where we use our brain and skill. For example, motorcycle or car racing. It’s a physical sport to certain level, but skill, talent and mental strength play a much bigger role in these sports. Its about vision, determination, discipline and being persistent at working towards our goals. If you can picture yourself being the best surgeon in the world and believe in it, there is no reason why you shouldn’t become it. Every morning when you wake up, visualise yourself being successful at what you really want to do, no matter if it’s a great wife and mother, cosmonaut or the top business woman. Just understand it doesn’t come to you, you need to go and get it!
One of my long term aims is to encourage girls and women to have the confidence to start following their dreams. When I was a little girl, my mum told me that anything is possible, there is nothing I can’t do. I have always thought that way since. Its all about mindset; if you think you can, you certainly can and if you think you can’t, you are also right. Start listening to motivational speeches and try to work out what you really want in your life. Take a break to have time only for yourself, as I know that most women are busy working and looking after their kids and they have no space or time to realise what THEY actually really want out of their life. It’s sad. It’s like a routine which is considered as part of normal life in today’s society. We miss so many beautiful things around us as we are blind, running around to make sure we make everybody else happy. There needs to be a balance. We were born to be happy and we all deserve it. Each of us has different talents and were born into this world for different reasons. We shouldn’t throw away our potential, as it’s disrespectful towards our own life. I could speak about this topic forever, which would end up being a book not an article. Ha ha!
The second part of the question was if I have had a strong female influence in my life. Since I can remember, all the women in my family have been strong and successful in different ways. I am not saying they were always happy, as you know winners walk alone and money and success don’t always make you happy. My great grandmother built the first private sanatorium for children suffering from allergies and lung disorders. She built it right under the biggest mountains, where there is special air and optimum conditions for healing. To be honest, I don’t know what year the communists took her company from her, as she was against their philosophy, but she was a very proud woman and she would never sell herself for anything she didn’t believe in. She was a very well known, smart and respected woman with a big heart. They put her in a one-bedroom flat for the rest of her life, coming from luxury to nothing. IT NEVER BROKE HER. I remember when she was 90, people were coming to her to learn German as she could speak well and she was still the same as ever before.
The strongest woman I currently know, with the biggest influence on me, has to be my mother. She was able to get our family hospital back from the government 15 years ago and she has been running it since. I explained to her that I can’t see myself living in Slovakia and running our family business and she supports me in good or bad, no matter if she understands what I really do and why I want what I want.
I have met a few people that have had an impact on my life since I have been racing and living all over the world and most of them have been men. I learned to rely on myself and everything else is only a bonus. I also realised that it’s important who you surround yourself with, as that influences your future. I have met some fantastic people in my life, who have become my mentors, make me grow and get the best out of me.
3. What drives you to keep branching out into new arenas? Do you have an insatiable thirst for adventure and success?
I LOVE A CHALLENGE. I take every opportunity I get, to see where I can take it. I have set priorities of course and I don’t let other activities influence my racing or things that really matter to me. I stay focused on my primary goals but I do love to take on anything that excites me. I love adventure and success, you are right! Most of the time I have so much energy to do all the things I am passionate about, that I feel like my brain is running at 14000 RPMs and I will explode. Ha ha! I need to be busy 24/7 and I still wish the days were longer. I love my training, doing business and working on many projects at the same time, so most of the time I go to bed exhausted, but I still listen to motivational speeches until I fall asleep. Just to make sure I don’t waste time by doing nothing. I know it sounds crazy and I need to do something about it and calm down eventually. I think that’s the reason I need my racing, as that’s the only time I am in the moment, focused and enjoying the feeling of riding on the edge. The adrenaline is massive and it makes me calm. It’s great therapy for me and gives me a feeling of freedom and being alive. I don’t feel really alive unless I feel like I can die. I’m not sure if you understand that, but I love pushing myself over my limit and testing the boundaries. I believe the only person who can limit us is ourself.
There is nothing to fear of in my world, my biggest fear is to wake up when I am old and regret what I HAVEN’T DONE. I would rather regret what I have done.
4. Tell us about your motorcycle racing career; have you ever encountered any sexism or negativity because you are a woman?
First, I would love to thank, from my heart, my new sponsor Winterbourne-Green, who will support my 2015 racing season and onwards. We have lots of exciting long-term plans, which involve racing but also other meaningful projects outside of racing. I love what I do and racing is my biggest passion. There hasn’t been a day I wouldn’t think of racing, since I started. It hasn’t been easy at all, actually I would say it has been very hard in many way as I started relatively late with nothing, no racing background in my family, not much money and in a foreign country as a female… I bet you can imagine it wasn’t easy…
But nothing in life is easy, I don’t know anyone who has had everything go perfectly in their life and I definitely don’t regret my decision to follow this career, which I started more than 6 years ago.
Regarding sexism or negativity, there are a few unpleasant situations we females experience, especially being involved in a ‘man’s’ sport like motorsport. Yes, I must say I have also come across people, men or women, who tried to put me down or belittle my aspirations and efforts. It used to hurt me at the beginning and I struggled to face these situations but I have learned to not let them to upset me as at the end of the day, there are many more nice, positive minded and supportive people than those few who dislike me or what I do, even though they know NOTHING about me. Its THEIR limitation and insecurity, not mine. On the other side, it’s very sweet of them to spend their own time following my life and career. Ha ha!
I don’t judge people as its not my right to do that. I think we should respect people for who they are, although we don’t need to agree or support the opinions and action of others. One of the reasons that I studied sport psychology, in 2011 and 2012, was to be able to deal with pressure and all the negative things and people that I don’t have control of. To be honest, it hasn’t been that bad and I can count on one hand the people that have been horrible, rude and had nasty comments to make about me. But they have done great job of it. Ha ha ha! Oh well, I wish them only the best and hopefully their jealousy and unhappiness with their own lives will stop eating them eventually. Bless them.
5. Do you think it is ever really possible for women to be given recognition for their achievements, irrespective of gender?
100 % YES!
6. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
NO, but only because I don’t want to put myself into boxes. I LIKE BOTH GENDERS FOR DIFFERENT REASONS! Obviously I am a woman and will always encourage women to be brave and not scared of taking risks for a better future, but to label myself seems so inherently counterproductive!
7. You have a fantastic figure and more than enviable looks, which you have put to fantastic use as a model, do you see this as an empowering career move? Do you think that being so hugely successful in other aspects of your life balances out what some might see as a ‘less impressive’ achievement?
Thank you for your kind words and compliments Amy. I see myself still at the beginning of my journey, it’s only the start of where I really want to be in the future. I have big dreams, outside of racing, and I feel like there is lots of room for improvement and a lot of work to be done to get there. I would like to have my own racing team and racing school, which will be for children from any society, including underprivileged kids. I would like to do things for animals and poor people, such as motivational speeches to show them a way to improve their lives and have faith. I am involved in a few big projects, where I can influence other peoples life in a positive way, so fingers crossed we make it happen in the near future.
Back to modelling. I do modelling only for my sponsors and marketing. I have also been working with a German motorcycle catalogue, Louis, for 3 years, where I model and ride. I love the job, it’s lots of fun, but it’s only 3 weeks a year, so I can’t really say that modelling is my career. I am planning to do sports modelling here in South Africa as soon as I will have suitable visa, just because I enjoy it and it opens up more opportunities for me. I am also very into fashion and I would like to have my own fashion brand eventually. Modelling and fashion are not my top of my priorities though. There are lots of beautiful women out there that are fantastic models.
You are right, some people might think I am selling my looks instead of my skill, but it’s only those that haven’t been following my career properly, so I am not worried about it. One thing is for sure: looks don’t make you faster or smarter. I have many personalities outside of being racer, as I am also woman. I train almost every day as training is my life and I am very organised and disciplined with my nutrition. Feeding your body with unhealthy food is like putting cheap petrol into your race bike…. you get the same result. I have been eating clean for many, many years. It wasn’t easy to find the winning formula regarding feeling strong and energised and staying lean, as you never can get enough nutrition for your body just from food, especially when you’re training twice a day. I believe vegetables and fruits often don’t have many vitamins, because of the way they have been stored, unless it’s organic food, which is not easy to get everywhere and on a daily basis. It’s not only about physical exhaustion, we also get mentally exhausted from work, family and stress in general. Recently, I have been using Herbalife, the best food replacement nutrition I have ever used in my life. It’s all natural, so doesn’t make me feel ill or too full and most importantly, I know my body gets all the vitamins and minerals it needs. I don’t have to be worried about looking for clean food 4 times a day with my crazy schedule. It obviously doesn’t mean I live only on shakes, I love my fish and vegetables. Also slightly burned pop-corn. Ha ha!
8. Do you have any career aspirations left to fulfil?
Many, many, many, as I have mentioned above. I want to get the best out of me at every possible opportunity, especially within motorcycle racing. I also want to spend more time with my family as they mean everything to me and I will make sure I walk it, not just talk it.
9. What advice would you give to women who are keen to embark on a career that is still largely considered to be a ‘male profession’.
I would suggest they stop worrying about the reasons why they shouldn’t embark on a male dominated career. They need to establish who they are and their strengths and weaknesses, to be able to work on them. They need to have a vision and to start to thinking positively to find reasons why they should do it and create long and short-term goals to succeed. Everything starts with a thought. The action follows.
They should challenge themselves and use the negativity of others as motivation and drive to prove them wrong. To explain myself correctly; we shouldn’t waste energy just to prove others wrong, but to prove to ourselves we can do it, which ultimately proves to others that we can. The only person who can stop us, is us. I am not saying it will be easy, but its worth giving it a go. Your achievement can only be as big as your risk. If you never take any risks in your life, you will live a safe life that’s true, but is it the life you really want?
I just want to say, we are as good as men and as I explained in a previous question, I can’t see any reason why women can’t equal men in many different areas. Its all about confidence, self belief and not giving up when things go wrong. I would also suggest listening to motivational speeches from both successful business women and men. There is so much I could say on this topic but I don’t want to go too deep. There are many more successful people in this world than me and I would suggest learning from them. That’s what I do.
10. Who do you consider to be an inspirational woman and why?
To be honest I don’t have an idol. There are so many women that inspire me, from those who are poor and live basic lives to athletes, business women, entrepreneurs all thew way through to the Queen of England! I am inspired by strong minded woman and REAL people who can get out of their comfort zone and take an action towards becoming who she really wants to be and not where she was put in her life. There are many women that constantly complain about their boring life, having job they don’t like, not having time for themselves due to kids, being over-weight and many other things, but they do nothing to change it as they are in their comfort zone.Well prepare for some tough love; nobody can help those that don’t want to be helped. I love helping women to look and feel better and I encourage them to do what they want to do. It’s a great feeling to make someone else’s life even just a little bit better, but I also don’t waste my energy on those who don’t know what they want. One needs to know who they are and have some kind of vision of what they want in order to be shown the way to get there.
I am also inspired by people who succeed from scratch, with that success not having come at the cost of others. What’s success? It’s very relative and individual. I might measure success completely differently than other women and it doesn’t mean either of us is wrong. I believe that all the people who are happy, are successful. If success doesn’t bring happiness to you, it’s fake and has no meaning. Also, what does success mean to us if we are ill? Nothing. I think success is a lifestyle and a combination of things make us successful. We need to take care of our physical and mental health as our first priority, to be able to do anything else with our lives.
One more thing… I think there is a lot of jealousy in the female world and I believe that if we left the jealousy behind and supported each other as females, we would have been much more successful in the male world and in general.