An Olympic champion, a three-time European champion, and the winner of the EHF Champions League Women with Larvik HK in 2011. Gro Hammerseng-Edin was a transcendental talent on the court, being one of the most representative players in the history of Norway, the most decorated team in history. A centre back with an amazing handball IQ, Hammerseng-Edin has never shied away from talking about her beliefs and vision in public. This is why she became one of the top voices in women’s handball, advocating equality and an integrated vision. Now, Hammerseng-Edin speaks about her life in her own words.
THIS IS ME: GRO HAMMERSENG-EDIN
You know, handball gave me everything. It was the sport that felt natural. It never felt like a job, and this is one of the luckiest situations – where you go to a job and love it. It also helped me settle down and create a family. Which is not only amazing, but a dream scenario.
But you want me to tell you how I got here, right? Well, I was raised up in a family with a passion for sports, therefore I was right there among the action since I was little. First it was football but when I was 10-years-old, one of my best friends asked me if I would like to play handball.
That was the moment my life changed. At first, it looked like any other sport. Then, it grew on me, and it dawned on me that I had a natural feel for this sport. Bear in mind that this was when I was a little girl, and I was not dreaming of becoming a professional handball player. It was not a dream; it was not something that I pursued wholeheartedly.
Yet at the years passed handball grew more and more interesting for me. First, there were the tournaments we played, they brought things like sleepovers, connections, good friends, and it felt amazing. The team spirit, the connection, the friendships established, it was perfect for me.
In my teens, I was a bit shy, and I never liked to take centre stage. But I was also a girl who didn’t shy away from using my voice whenever I felt like it, or whenever I thought it was necessary. I was shy, but at the same time, I tried to be brave whenever the situation imposed it. Sure, it sounds like a paradox. But there I was. I was never afraid to stand up for my teammates and what I thought was right, especially for them, because I loved being in a team.
Therefore, imagine my surprise when I was called up to the Norway national age-group teams and when I was named captain of these sides. It was a huge honour and I really started to think that handball could be the job that I could love and do for the rest of my life.
Sooner rather than later, in 2000, when I was only 20 years old, I was called up for the senior team. There I was, sitting close to other players who I admired, and I had watched from my couch at home over the years. It was a feeling that I will never forget.
It was only three years later that Marit Breivik, the coach of Norway’s national team, nominated me to be captain of the side. I had only the warmest feelings for her and for my teammates, plenty of whom were more experienced than me. I will say that it was pretty emotional, a big responsibility. I remember that my knees started to shake a bit. But I took the challenge, embraced it and it was an amazing period.
I am talking about my handball life because I really feel humble and excited about my career. Sure, there were some tough moments, especially the injury-related ones. It is never a good time to have an injury, more so when there are difficult games coming.
Yes, I have missed important matches and important competitions in my career due to the injuries I had, but it is never easy to judge them. Sure, at that time, it looked like everything was over, like I would never return to the court and had to work a lot to hit the rhythm I once had.
But now, in retrospect, these challenges really helped me get better, improve, both as a player and as a person. One is also defined by the way a challenge is overcome therefore I really do appreciate that I had to get through this to reach the top. Whenever things were looking bad, I was always going to pick myself up and put everything I had in to getting back on the court.
Because the way to the top is not easy. We were there, me and my teammates, and it felt amazing, winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games, or becoming a European champion three times. Securing the Champions League with Larvik, the first-ever Norwegian team to do so felt equally amazing and it was a culmination of everything we worked for.
Could I leave handball behind, even after I quit, in 2017, could I?
Ok, that was the handball part, because I always felt like I owe everything to this sport. Now to the, well, personal, part of my story.
Having the career that I had, I always liked to have my voice heard and to make a change, to have equality, no matter the colour of someone’s skin, their religion or sex, so we have more inclusion in our society.
We have made great strides, but I will always be an advocate of diversity, of equality, and defend my thoughts every time I can, because I can speak freely.
Like I have told you, I met my wife, Anja, through handball. We played together for Larvik HK and the Norway senior national team, and I could not have been happier since we got together. It was a match made in heaven. She is my soulmate and we loved what we did, as players, and what we are doing now.
We now have two beautiful boys, and we are living a life which I am truly grateful for. We even wrote our little book, “Anja+Gro = Mio”, during my first pregnancy and after Mio was born. I think it was published in 2014, if I recall correctly. Time flies, right? We wanted to share our life and to help other couples who are experiencing the same things understand that nothing is impossible.
I felt amazing to hear that many read the book, which was translated into Serbian, and there are plenty of people who are still looking for it. We were also asked to do an English translation and that made us very happy, because it means that we really did a good job in writing it and helping other people with our experience. Now, because we have another son, I was even joking with Anja that we might have to do the second volume. Funny, right?
In fact, proving that nothing is impossible is what I am doing now, with my company, doing public speaking and trying to inspire people. I am also a student now – I am of the opinion that one never stops learning, irrespective of the age, no matter if you are 30, 60 or 80 years old, you still have something to find out – and I am taking a leadership class in a university.
Anja also has her own company, Heart Mentality, which is a program that helps people improve their mindset and focus better and better on the tasks they have. The focus of Heart Mentality is on meditation, a very important feature, which I think can help people a lot. There is also an app which was created where the members have the chance to work on personal growth and training their focus, which is also very important. I feel it is amazing that we are doing this, and everything worked out well for us, even after retiring from handball.
It might sound like a lot, but it really is not, because I have been doing it with a lot of passion and I still love what I do.
But, like I told you, I didn’t quit handball. I have been working as a coach for Norway’s youngest women’s national team because I feel this is my calling. This has always been my passion. Handball has always been in my life, and I could not simply walk away from it after I decided to stop as a player.
Helping other girls improve, trying to create the future of Norwegian handball is always an interesting quest. Because I was there when I was little, and I know what it means.
There are other players, like Kristine Lunde, who are coaching Norway’s national teams in the younger age categories. This is also a point to prove for many: that even if you are a woman, you can become a coach and thrive in your position.
Sure, in Norway, things have improved. At the moment, they are better than in the past, but we still have a very long way to go. There are not many women in head coach positions in handball right now. In men’s handball, there are none. But there are plenty of countries where chances are slim for former players and this, at least in my opinion, should change.
This is what I want to prove with everything that I am doing: that nothing is impossible, that everything is achievable, if you work hard and you have a lot of ambition.
Well, this is me in a nutshell. I usually like to talk a lot when I speak about things that matter to me. I was always like this, I am really passionate about everything I believe in, about trying to make the world a better place. Through handball, I think I achieved this objective, making my career a platform for underlining the things I believe in.
I hope it was not too much for a single story, but this is me. I will always be like this, passionate about what I do and what I believe in.