USA Pentathlon Multisport interviewed Stefan Ahaus, father & coach of three daughters, all Pentathletes. One of them, Viktoria Ahaus, is a US National Junior Champion 2021 & Junior World Championship Attendant. Hear about how his family got involved with Pentathlon, the challenges of his coach-athlete relationship with his daughters, and his opinion about the value of Pentathlon on personality development.
USAPM: How has Pentathlon become a part of your life?
SA: For many years, Modern Pentathlon has been a main part of my personal life.
As father of three sports fascinated daughters, Viktoria (20), Charlotte (17), and Antonia (11), I decided very early on to support their passion for sports, so I became their personal adviser, logistic-manager, coach and of course financial-supporter for all of their activities. At a very young age, the girls enjoyed physical activity, especially outdoors and showed a talent for very different sports. As I have been an athlete through high-school and my young adulthood, I got in contact with all Pentathlon-disciplines and subsequently introduced this interesting sport to my daughters, who quickly developed a passion for Pentathlon, mainly because their favorite sports, riding and fencing, were a part of it. For the last 13 years now, I have spent almost every free minute supporting their sports activities, while also helping other kids in sports by being in charge of three fencing and multisport clubs.
USAPM: How long has your family been involved in the sport of Pentathlon?
SA: Our family has been connected to Pentathlon for three generations, remembering my grandfather who took all of his money as an 18-year-old to fulfill his great dream to watch the Olympic Games live, going on an adventurous journey to Stockholm, Sweden in 1912. The sport that fascinated him the most was ‘Modern Pentathlon,’ and he was very proud to have watched the young West Point graduate, later becoming the famous General George Patton who participated for the U.S., finished ranking fifth. Twenty four years later, in 1936, my daughter’s great-grandfather made it back to the Olympics taking place in Berlin. There, he was fascinated by Jesse Owens and watched his favorite sport, Pentathlon, over several days, this time seeing three young Officers and Gentlemen on the podium. The young West Point graduate and later Major General of the U.S. Army, Charles Leonard, won the Silver Medal for the United States (with a record in shooting that held for 44 years), and closely behind, Gotthard Handrick, a young German Air Force Officer won Gold and was ahead of the young Italian Silvano Abba, who later became a national hero in his country; three young military officers from different countries were united through sports. For years, we listened to grandpa’s stories and by listening to him, we already felt like Pentathletes. As kids, we heard the legend behind this sport: “A Courier’s horse gets killed in a hostile area. First, he defends himself with his saber, then with his pistol. Afterwards, he crosses a river by swimming under, and makes it to his destination by a final cross-country run.” There was no doubt that we wanted to be out for adventure and be a kind of “Pony Express Riders.” So, it was somehow logical that one of his descendants would end up in Pentathlon one day. Today, Pentathlon is a huge part of our family life, as it has become a lifestyle and many of the activities take place on our own estate.
The Legend - Pony Express Courier
Adventure & Lifestyle - Young Pentathlete
USAPM: What are the challenges of your coach-athlete relationship with your daughters?
How does the father-daughter dynamic work when training?
SA: I want to answer these questions in a more general way, as in my opinion it all comes down to the overall “philosophy” I am following as father and coach. From my own experience, I know that sport is much more than just victories and medals. Therefore, we started our journey through the world of sports in a very relaxed manner by growing step by step into the fascinating and unique sport of Pentathlon with its five totally different and challenging disciplines: riding, fencing, running, swimming, and shooting!
Great challenge and adventure – Modern Pentathlon – an exceptional sport
A healthy father daughter relationship is built on love, respect, trust, and open and intense communication, like all other important relationships. As a coach, I think our ability to inspire is vital to an athlete’s success. Athletes respect a coach who can show them that there is something greater than the game and more important than winning or losing. I have learned from many biographies of great coaches and athletes, so I want to recapitulate some of their thoughts and add my own experiences and beliefs.
Roger Bannister (UK), the first runner to run the mile under 4 minutes, was asked about the legacy of his coach Franz Stampfl: “His legacy!? Don’t accept limitations!” He also was convinced that “the athletes greatest asset, apart from essential fitness of body, is confidence and courage and that the coach’s job is twenty percent technical and training, and eighty percent inspirational. And that a coach may know all there is to know about tactics, technique and training, but if he cannot win the confidence and comradeship of his pupils, he will never be a good coach.”
A sport can consume the life of an athlete and become the most important aspect of his or her life. Without faith in something “greater,” a simple loss, or a serious injury can feel life-shattering, as there may be nothing beyond the game and the athletes might be nothing without the game or competition. Therefore, having a good foundation is very important. This is why it is of paramount importance that coaches lead by example and possibly follow the words of the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, who told his team over and over: “Think of only three things: your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers – in that order.” Translated to our present family situation in Pentathlon, it would mean: “Your God, your family and your Pentathlon Team – in that order”, which includes Viktoria’s coaches and teammates. It might not be an accepted philosophy and order for everyone, but for me, as a father and “assistant- coach” who feels responsible for the well-being of his kids and athletes, I can identify myself with that quote. Athletic competitions can display jaw-dropping talents and skills developed to their highest level, but these coaches remind us that when life demands, we throw a “Hail Mary Pass”, and we do it from a place of deep faith, belief and trust in ourselves.
As a dad, I permanently try to stress some fundamentals: the importance of hard work, accountability and loyalty, which comes close to the motto of Viktoria’s college, the New Mexico Military Institute: Duty, Honor, Achievement. When the kids are young and growing up, it is of course not always easy to find the right understanding for the secrets of life – and of sports- and why it could be important to follow certain dreams, goals, and values. So, I always have and will see my major task in guiding my Pentathlete daughters through their challenging life with defeats and victories and to also always emphasize the importance of bringing their best spirit to this unique U.S. Pentathlon family.
USAPM: Can you give your opinion on the importance of the right training environment?
SA: Over the years, Viktoria found many opportunities to get into sport-environments where her skills, confidence, and achievements could grow without limit and where hard work and aspiration were encouraged and rewarded, which is an extremely important motivational aspect. This is her current situation in the US-Pentathlon environment, where these aspects are a common and daily practiced philosophy by the Team in charge: the US Pentathlon Development Directors & National Coaches Dr. G. Sokolovas, Dan Browne, Jan Olesinski (Pentathlon Coach at the New Mexico Military Institute), Kevin Montford (Deputy Director), and not to forget Elaine Cheris (Fencing) and Tracey Powers (Riding). All of them are outstanding in their fields of activity and a team to absolutely trust when it comes to coaching, advice, support, and encouragement for the young athletes (and your own kids) on that challenging, adventurous, and exciting journey to become one of the most versatile and exceptional athletes in the world. For parents, it is an amazing experience to see their kids personally growing within this “Pentathlon Family”.
USAPM: How do you see the value of Sport for your daughters and young athletes in general?
SA: The great overall experience gained in sports can be a wonderful foundation for a very successful and happy life besides or after active sports. It is an incredible life experience for young athletes to regularly challenge themselves and to meet athletes from 20 to 30 different nations at international competitions. I rarely, if at all, have to give lectures to my daughters on diversity or about different cultures, fairness and respect; in our sport they grow up with all this in a very natural, normal, and uncomplicated way.
Experience for life: As highly welcomed guest at the Junior world Championships 2021 in Egypt, hosted by the Egyptian Pentathlon Federation and the Arab Academy of Naval Science / Naval Academy (Viktoria with young Naval Officers and Egyptian National Coach)
In the end, we fathers and coaches embody an important aspect of fatherhood; by caring for the ethical, physical, and spiritual well-being of our athletes and kids, we communicate to our athletes that they have value beyond their sport. Doing this, the whole person is honored and taught to honor others in the same way. Being successful in sports also opens doors in many directions and leads to many unexpected opportunities.
I am very lucky that my Pentathlon-daughters were always open to my advice and lessons as their father and coach - as well as to their US-Pentathlon coaches. I am very hopeful that some of that will be of an everlasting value for their future in sports as well as for their personal life.