Fatima Moreira de Melo: Inside The Mind And Heart of an Olympian

Fatima Moreira de Melo: Inside The Mind And Heart of an Olympian

Lee Davy sits down with the Olympic gold medallist, Fatima Moreira de Melo, to understand what makes her successful in the world of sport, work, and her relationships.

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Society shapes our lives at a very young age using a rule book handed down for the past 2 million years. It’s old. It doesn’t work. But we don’t ask questions. We are afraid to because nobody else is asking them. Every hand in the air feels like a salute to a dictator.

But some people don’t conform. They were raised to view the world through a different lens. Or, perhaps, not fitting in prompted them to learn to adapt; to fight, to ask those questions – to think. People like Fatima Moreira de Melo.

What makes an Olympic gold medallist?

What goes on in that mind?

What are the values that underpin her success?

Tales of black swans will continue to float down the river of life. We must never stop highlighting the success stories. We should promote them. We should reach in, pull them out, and share them with the world. Now, more than ever, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the most successful and illuminating women in the world.

Fatima Moreira de Melo: Inside The Mind And Heart of an Olympian
[Image from Fatima Moreira de Melo’s Instagram Account]
So, without further ado, here is the little Dutch genius.

How has your WSOP experience been thus far?

“I got in on June 29, and I have played seven events. I had two deep runs, finishing 14th in the $1k Turbo. You can’t complain, but it also sucks. I also finished 33rd in the Tag Team event with Leo Margets, and that was a lot of fun.”

Leo Margets is one of Fatima’s best friends. The pair met, working for PokerStars as ambassadors. Leo recently left the team, and I wondered how that split in business loyalty affected their relationship?

“We were like shit, what’s going to happen now? I didn’t know if she would still travel to EPTs. Some people might have been like that after being dropped; Leo isn’t. She loves to play. She is a busy bee and a proven good friend.”

Who you choose to spend your time with is a critical life success factor. I hoped by asking Fatima what she valued in her relationship with Leo; I could understand what values breed success?

“The reason I connect easiest with someone is if they are open minded, non-judgmental, and we can have differing views and different perspectives. I have to feel free to say whatever I want in a conversation without feeling judged, and Leo provides that.

“I sometimes think society’s view on matters is too broad a perspective. In friendship, things require more detailed knowledge and focus. I don’t like to follow what everyone else thinks people have to do. I think like that and so does Leo, and that’s why we get along so well.”

And this is where I stumble across one of the reasons Fatima has been so successful in life. She is a leader; a person not chained to the shackles of how life expects you to behave. She won’t want to curtsy to life. That’s not her way.

“It doesn’t mean people have to like the same things as me. Leo doesn’t need to be a poker player to be my friend. But we do have to share similar values. She is a free spirit, as am I.

“I was part of a team up until I was 30. I had to give up some of my freedom to do so. In that way, people often confuse individualism with selfishness. I am all for individualism while at the same time caring for people around you. I don’t want to do things because other people want me to. There is a big difference between the two. It’s the only reason I want to make money. I don’t need yachts, watches, or purses. It’s to be free with the choices I want to make in life.”

When you rock the boat, people get wet. I wondered if Fatima’s way of being and her need to be authentic in her relationships ever leads to conflict?

“It depends on the subject. I don’t have many insecurities and am willing to learn and change my perspective. I am ready to change my mind, but if someone is trying to tell me something about that I know more about than them, such as field hockey, we may have a different opinion. When I was younger, I wanted to be right for the sake of being right. I don’t feel like that anymore. Less ego maybe?”

We all have an ego, but our representation, our story, is different. I wanted to know what Fatima’s story was?

“I am very short {laughs}. I think I needed to compensate for my littleness. You think I am just a little girl? I will show you. That’s why I was bluffing so much when I started playing poker.”

I wondered if success in sports led to an increase in ego?

“In a way, because my ego got fed through success, I became more relaxed because of success. I am very relaxed, and success breathes confidence. This is why I don’t have to be right all of the time. I know if I need to succeed at something I have to work hard. If I know how to do something, I get a little bit lazy and maybe don’t go in depth unless I am very passionate. I think it works both ways. Sporting achievements fed my ego but also in some ways made me relaxed.”

You cannot achieve the success that Fatima has achieved without confidence. In a world where so many women struggle in this area, I asked Fatima to share some insights.

“Don’t compare yourself to other people. You can’t be like other people; you are you, and you are always enough. The problem with society is we always measure success. There is no point measuring success for yourself. It creates insecurity, unhappiness, and expectations that are too high. Be who you are, and if you know you are doing everything in your power to do the best you can, whatever your goals are, accept that. Accept who you are. Look in the mirror and ask: “What am I doing in life?” When you get the answer, don’t complain. Do something about it. If you don’t want to do something about it, then accept it.”

When you Google ‘Fatima Moreira de Melo’ you find shots of her in a bikini holding a huge snake. The shots are sexy, confident, and given her standing as an Olympic athlete, they could be perceived as being controversial. I wanted to know why she chose to do it?

“Last year when I came to Vegas I came through Houston. The guy on passport control – they are usually grumpy white men – asked me why I was travelling? I told him I was going to play poker in Vegas. He then asked me what else I did, and then he googled me and started laughing. He turned the screen, and I saw the picture, and was like: “Oh fuck.”

“I did it a long time ago. I liked doing it at the time. I was an athlete. Field hockey is an elite sport in Holland. To see someone from an elite sport in a bikini in FHM was controversial. It was extra motivation for me to do it. I was like fuck that I can be in a bikini, be a top athlete, I don’t have to look like shit because I have to take my sport seriously, I don’t come from an elite family, so I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I was fit at the time, thought it was cool, and went for it.”

I wanted to explore how she overcame fear, not only of wearing a bikini during the shoot but that millions of people would see them when they hit the Internet? How did she feel?

“Kind of cool.”

Not, nervous?

“Well, I did have a Boa Constrictor around my neck that added a second dimension to the whole shoot. It triggers me more. If I have to perform or do something it triggers me. I want to do the best I can and then that’s it.”

So how far would Fatima go against the grain of society? Would she take naked photographs?

“No, I am not used to showing my genitals to random people. I was asked to do Playboy in Holland, and I said no. My mum goes to the naked beach and tells me to go and be liberated. I am like no Mum I don’t want to do that. I am not comfortable with that. I am well known in Holland too so it feels a little awkward. It’s not a goal of mine to be in Playboy and show my pussy to guys.”

But isn’t nakedness the ultimate fuck you expression in society?

“It’s free, and liberating – although I can’t see myself running around naked on The Strip in Vegas. The police would probably pick me up. There are restrictions you have to follow. You also have to take into consideration what your boyfriend and parents think. And I already feel free.”

The subject turns to Daniel Negreanu and his views on microaggressions and how society may have gone too far pushing censorship onto people afraid to speak about controversial topics. I ask Fatima for her opinion?

“Daniel is an ambassador for the poker community. I like what he does. He brings subjects up, and people can respond to it in anyway they like. In the end, it’s the public who has the responsibility to filter the information and do with it what they want. Even though you are a public person, you still need to be a free spirit. When your reach is wider just know your message will reach more people. You can get more shit for it, equally more support. Live and let live. Do what the fuck you want and accept the consequences. If you aren’t aware of those consequences, you aren’t very smart.

“I was almost banned from the Olympics because I had a column in a national newspaper and wrote that the Olympic clothing from ASICS was shit. I had signed a contract with the Olympic Committee, and ASICS was a sponsor. I probably didn’t read the fucking thing. I wasn’t allowed to just dis them. I was unpleased. I was swimming in the clothes. They weren’t nice for me to wear. You have freedom of speech. I had a column. But sometimes you have to be aware of what you are doing, and I nearly missed out on going to the Olympics. There is a fine line between freedom of speech and achieving your goals. You have to choose the right time and platform.

“I also think it’s important to think about what you want to achieve with what you are about to say. I never used to be like that. I am today. Do I want to create chaos? Awareness? Sometimes there is no point in saying anything.”

One area of my life that I would like to make an impact is helping housewives rediscover a life that they put on hold so everyone else around them can live theirs. One of the problems that develop over time is a lack of financial independence, and I was interested in Fatima’s views on this?

“Honey can I have new shoes – ok. Can I buy diapers for the baby – ok. Can I buy myself into EPT Barcelona – what honey? First of all, you can’t generalise because there are so many cultures where it’s tough for women to live a financially independent life. I used to be way more judgmental, but now I understand it much more.

“In the Western world, we often live in luxury. In other areas of the world, it’s all about survival. The more it’s about survival in cultures the more women are likely not to live independently, unfortunately. When you have a choice, and most of the time in the modern world we have a choice as a woman, my goal has always been to be and stay independent. If I am in a relationship, I want to earn my own money and live my own life.

“I don’t have children, and that’s a choice too. I am rational about that stuff. I don’t want to live a life that’s portrayed in the movies: go to college, find your boy, get married, have kids, boy cheats, then you are fucked…then what? That’s not my plan. I am with someone, we take care of each other and see what happens, but I always need to be able to move on by myself and not depend on someone otherwise my choices are not free.

“You are going to drift further away from independence the longer it goes on. Doing housework is a big job. I would go nuts if I had to do that. You should always remember that you aren’t only Mum. Some people like to be that, and that’s fine. But for the rest, they are a person like Fatima, Wendy or whatever, Don’t stop having goals because you have a family, and your husband has a great job.

“My friend from the Dutch team gets married, has two kids, and got sick during both pregnancies. Guy cheats on her because he’s not getting enough sex…wtf she just had a second child and had kidney failure or what the fuck it was. Then she gave him a second chance. She had nothing. She took care of the kids because he had a very demanding job. Now she is left with two children, and that’s it. I don’t think you have developed yourself throughout life just to take care of children. It wouldn’t be my goal.”

So what advice would she give to women to gain a better balance in life?

“What if I had a kid, what would I do? I would breastfeed while playing online poker. At least I wouldn’t be brain dead while some kid sucks on my nipple. It would be the optimal use of my time. I would always try to combine stuff. It wouldn’t be like now I have a kid I am restricted. I would search for solutions to get what I want. I can’t see the answers right now, and that’s why I don’t want to have kids. I love my life. I don’t want to compromise.”

Fatima recently enjoyed her birthday, and I asked her if she ever thought about the future, and fitting everything in before death?

“I don’t reflect on it a lot. I reflect on the passing of my parents. My Dad turns 75 in September, and he needs a kidney transplant. He’s on 16 pills per day, and he and my mum are so cute together. My mum is 69, and that’s a beautiful sexy age. I bought her a vibrator, and she was smiling when we went out for a dinner taking photographs of her holding it with my Dad smiling next to her.

“That worries me. What would happen if one died? I would hate that. I am an only child, and I would feel the responsibility, not for their happiness but to keep them company. Even though I love them, I don’t want to be with my Mum or Dad all day. I want to be free, so there is a conflict there.

“It’s so tough. It must be heartbreaking for parents. Your kids grow up and then move to another country. You have to let go when they leave home, and then you barely see them because they exit the country. I still have a lot of jobs I do in Holland, but sometimes you think what would happen if I move to another country, and I can’t because of my parents.”

Moving on to relationships, I ask what makes her a great girlfriend?

“I don’t have to be right all the time anymore. I think about what I want to achieve in conversations, discussions, and debates. I never used to. I have learned that even though I am impatient, passionate, and emotional, I have developed my rationality. That’s an excellent combination for a guy. I don’t fight much. Just being passionate my nature would be just to go right at it. Poker helped me in that aspect to think about things a little bit more and to be more accepting. It also makes my life easier. I want people to feel free so I wouldn’t ask you to do something for me that you didn’t want to do. Do whatever the fuck you want to do and if it matches up great. If it doesn’t, it’s still good. I want them to feel free because I want to feel free.”

And what are some of the aspects of relationships she is still working on?

“I am an impatient person. I want things quickly. I can deal with that stuff better now. I used to go right at you. I am verbally strong. I can corner you with words. It comes from emotion. I care. It’s passion; anger. I wouldn’t give my boyfriend a chance even to say what was up. I would go at him and then ask him why he wasn’t say anything? Then as he spoke, I would go at it again

“My boyfriend is very relaxed. He convinced me that it depends on how you put the message out there whether someone will hear it. I didn’t use to think it mattered how I said things. The tone and manner of which you speak impact the way the message is received, and I never thought about the delivery. I worked on my delivery.

“It helped me a lot to understand it matters. It proved his point all the time. I would be like I am trying to tell you something and you don’t hear it. And he would say you just said it in a very shitty way. So I rephrase in a calm, unemotional way. That’s the way to solve problems. Be more understanding.

“The problem a lot of men have with women is their girlfriends are going off at them, and they are saying I am trying my best. Why aren’t you giving me credit for the things I am doing well? So this is what I say today, “I know you are working on this and are trying your best, but in this particular case, this and this happened, I don’t understand why? Can you explain it to me.” They are less likely to feel like shit if you use this approach.”

That’s the best relationship advice I have ever heard. That and don’t buy a dog if you want a cat from Don Miguel Ruiz. I ask Fatima how she manages to be such a polymath?

“If I do something I prioritise. When I was in the singing competition, I didn’t do anything else. I went into the singing bubble. When I am in Vegas, I am in the poker bubble. I do a lot of things but not at the same time. I didn’t play EPT Ireland. I didn’t go to Australia. I had vocal coaching, I went through all the songs, sang all day, barely spoke to people because I wanted to save my voice, was very unsociable, Whatsapp was suddenly very handy. I go into a zone and try to do the best I can. Then I can accept, if I don’t do well I worked very hard, and that’s all I could have done.”

And what about the future?

If I gave Fatima 10,000 hours to focus on one thing what would it be and why?

“I would have to choose between studying poker all of the time…nah…I think I would like to do that to see how far it takes me. But I also want to be fit, and I love tennis. So I would like to do that and see how far that would take me.”

As an Olympian, does that mean she won’t be a success in poker unless she wins her title?

“No, I have to become the best I can be. I need to get the best out of the experience. My peak might not be winning the WSOP Main Event. It might have been making Day 4 last year. That’s not what it’s about for me. Enjoying what I am doing while doing it is what it’s about. A lot of time slips away, and you have done all of these things to gain success, and you haven’t enjoyed what you are in doing.

“In hockey, I enjoyed the process. Success is all about enjoying your life. If I get to wear an ugly looking bracelet or not…it would give me a feeling of euphoria, that’s nice, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy my life without coming first in something.”

Fortunately, for Fatima, how she applies herself in life usually means she wins by default.