Liryn de Jager grew up in a sports-mad family, and for as long as she can remember, she wanted to be a sports journalist.
Four years ago, Liryn got her first big break in sports journalism, and she hasn’t looked back since.
In fact, the Rapport journalist is now regarded as one of South Africa’s top sports feature writers.
Just recently, she was named Feature Writer of the Year for 2006, at the SAB Sports Journalist of the Year Awards.
Over the years, Liryn has travelled to Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, and even to Spain, to follow Shosholoza’s America’s Cup dream, all the while living out her own dream.
Liryn has banked many memories, and she shares some of them with gsport in this frank interview about her life, her love for sport, and her exciting experiences as a sports journalist.
Introducing gsport’s Woman in Media for June, the award-winning Liryn de Jager.
How did you get started in journalism?
I’ve been a journalist in total for more than 13 years, first in broadcasting and the last seven years in print.
I grew up in a sports-mad family (father, mother, sister, 2 brothers) and ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a sports journalist.
But of course you must first learn to crawl before you can walk, and when I finally got my big chance during the 2003 World Cup (started doing sport part-time before that), I took it with both hands, and haven’t looked backed since.
Where did you work before Rapport?
I worked at the SABC (Radio News) as a student in 1994, went overseas for a year, came back and joined the SABC for another two years.
Then from about October 1997 till May 2000 I worked at Punt Talk Radio.
What are your favourite sports to report on?
I love tennis, because of the type of athlete that’s participating. They are not ego-maniacs, like some of the members of big teams.
The same goes for golfers. It is a great experience to sit down with these people, and just let them talk about their sport and what they do, what they have achieved, and the sacrifices they had to make to get to the top.
How does it feel to when you’re awarded for your good work (like the SAB Sports Journalist Awards?)
It is a real honour to be recognised for all the hard work. And believe me, it hasn’t been easy, being a woman in a man’s world.
But I’ve had great support in people like Bokkie Gerber (former Sports Editor at Rapport). My colleagues at Rapport have also been very encouraging.
And just to hear from the ‘man on the street’ how they’ve enjoyed my stories is another thing that makes it worthwhile.
You’ve been to Wimbledon before. Tell us about some of your experiences?
Wimbledon was absolutely great, especially after watching it on television for so many years, and then actually getting the chance to walk on those famous grass courts, and munch on the strawberries and cream. And of course to get to see tennis of that standard live.
I’ve also been to Jamaica (2003) for the Netball World Championships, I was in Melbourne (2006) for the Commonwealth Games, and was in Spain just recently for the America’s Cup, where South Africa’s Shosholoza performed so brilliantly.
I’ve also crossed South Africa many times over for tennis, netball, hockey, golf etc.
What do you make of the state of women’s tennis in South Africa?
It’s a sad state of affairs at the moment, to say the least. After Amanda Coetzer retired a couple of years ago, we’ve all been waiting for the next star to step up to the plate, but nothing has happened.
The Fed Cup team is also not what it used to be. But luckily there is someone like Liezel Huber who is doing brilliantly as a doubles player (she’s currently ranked number 4 in the world!) and hopefully with a cash injection, we can start building for the future again.
Who are you expecting to win the Women’s Singles at Wimbledon this year?
It’s a tough call. Amelie Mauresmo is the current champion, but I doubt she will make it two in a row.
Serena Williams is slowly getting back to her top form, and Justine Henin (without the Hardenne this time) has a point to prove after her disappointments on- and off the court, the last couple of months.
And don’t disregard Maria Sharapova or Martina Hingis.
Who are your favourite tennis players?
I have to say Steffi Graf and Chris Evert. They are both retired now, but Steffi’s athletic ability and Chris’s grace on the court was truly amazing.
And Lindsay Davenport, who I saw at Wimbledon a couple of years ago. She is the nicest person you can ever imagine, really down to earth.
Of the men, Andre Agassi will always be top. And one can’t deny Roger Federer’s class, one of a kind.
What is the best live sports event you’ve attended, and why?
That’s a very good question. Each event that I attend has a different ‘vibe’ to it, and each one is unique.
On my recent trip to Spain for the America’s Cup, I got goose bumps and tears in my eyes sailing with Shosholoza on the last day.
Then, sitting on centre court at Wimbledon and watching Wesley Moodie and Stephen Huss (his Aussie doubles partner) winning the doubles crown, was another magnificent experience. There are too many to mention.
Do you play sport?
I played netball and korfbal at school, wasn’t much of an athlete on the track though. Today I sometimes play action netball and I also like swimming.
How do you keep fit?
I have a stationery bike at home and during my ‘soapie hour’ I peddle.
When on holiday, I also like to take long hikes/walks. And, does running after two very busy god-children count?
Who are the sports journalists that you look up to?
Being a woman, I admire the people that paved the way for me to do what I’m doing at the moment.
That is people like Jane Bramley and Janet Whitton. And then also other women in the sports world – Karien Jonckheere, Marjolein van der Stadt, Kass Naidoo, youngsters coming through (Nazli Thomas), and the tons working behind the scenes in print and broadcasting.
And someone like Bokkie Gerber who gave me the chance to start with.
What advice do you have for women who want to break into sports journalism?
Perseverance! If you have this dream, to become a sports journalist, never give up.
Never let anybody tell you that you don’t belong there. And educate yourself, so that you know what you are talking and writing about.
How can we improve the state of women’s sport in South Africa?
Unfortunately money makes the world go round and it’s the same for sport, and women’s sport as well.
The powers that be should see to it that the cake is sliced accordingly, and the women get their piece as well.
On the other hand (thanks, Naas…), we shouldn’t wait for people to come to us, go out there, and make things work with what we have.
What inspires you?
Nature. Being out in the bush with all God’s creatures and creations gives me energy like nothing else.
What would be your ideal job?
I love what I’m doing at the moment, all my dreams have come true, it’s truly amazing.
But if I have a couple of years more left in me, I would like to venture into wildlife filmmaking at one stage of my life.
If I can do that, then I think I can safely say I’ve had a good and fulfilling life.