This is me: Amandine Leynaud
Been there, done that: Amandine Leynaud has reached everything a handball player could wish for in a career. Now at 35, the French great has arrived in the autumn of her career. In this episode of the This is me… series, Leynaud takes us through her 17-year-long journey across Europe’s handball courts.
THIS IS ME: AMANDINE LEYNAUD
I am at peace.
After 17 seasons as a professional handball player, I feel like I have come full circle now. I have done all I ever dreamt of doing, played every competition I ever dreamt of playing, and won every trophy I ever wanted to win.
And while now is not the time to retire yet, I am at peace. And I will tell why.
Almost 20 years ago, I got a call from Metz Handball. At that time, they were the biggest club for women’s handball in France. I was 16, and looking back, it was the prehistory of handball: I did not even think it was possible to actually make a living out of it.
But I ended up being a professional. What was once a dream, became reality.
My parents, Françoise and Jean-Luc, were not delighted by the choice I made. To see their daughter, only 16, go to the other end of the country, for a process that they did not have full faith in… They sure had questions.
But I had to tell them to trust me. My coaches at Metz did everything to make sure I was in the right place and that my parents would have nothing to worry about. When I see the look in their eyes now, even though their shyness prevents them to say that they are proud, I feel I made the right decisions.
I told them exactly the same thing again when I decided to move to Valcea, in 2012. Trust me, everything will be fine.
Going to Romania was a way of putting myself in danger, of getting out of my comfort zone. I had been playing for Metz for six seasons, and I felt like I had seen it all.
And boy, I did get out of my comfort zone.
Exhausted, tired after playing the Olympics in London, my body said stop. Torn ACL, nine months out. At the other end of Europe, at a club that was crumbling financially.
At that point, I did wonder whether I should go back to France. I questioned myself: why am I putting myself through all of this?
But before I had an answer, Vardar came. And Vardar, speaking of handball, saved my life.
The day I was meant to undergo knee surgery, the club called. They were building a women’s top-level team, and they wanted me to be part of it.
“Do you know where I am right now?” I asked them, almost crying. I was anxious before the surgery, but also a bit bewildered that they called me even though I was about to be away for the next nine months.
But they trusted me. And these years in Skopje were the most amazing I had in a handball team.
I often look back to these days and tell myself how lucky I was to share these five years with these amazing people. This club has a special place in my heart, the city of Skopje has a special place in my heart.
My story is so much linked with Skopje. This bond is strong, strong for life, with these girls. Winning the EHF Champions League together would have been the perfect ending.
Those tears, when we lost the 2018 final, they were real. I was so angry and sad and disappointed that I could not end my story with Vardar with an EHF Champions League trophy. I remember winning the MVP title, and while walking to collect it, thinking how I would trade it for the trophy.
But the EHF Champions League came to me once I moved to Györ. It was a strange feeling. I was a little bit sad because I had been so close to winning it when I was in Vardar, but it was so amazing to finally lift the trophy after chasing it for 15 years.
Trophies came in a flood these last years, either with Györ or the French national team. EHF EURO, World Championship, Hungarian championship, EHF Champions League, I have won them all since 2017. I was always touching them, but now, I have got them.
It might not be a coincidence that it all happened since I had become a mum.
Mia and Marcel were born in September 2017, three months before I became world champion with France for the first time. They have taught me a different kind of love and changed my life forever.
It is one thing to be an athlete and another one to be a mother. Suddenly, these two children rely on you for everything, and it has definitely taught me to take a step back. If I lose a game, no way I come back home and focus on myself. No way.
They were both born prematurely, and for a couple of days, I could have lost them any minute. Handball suddenly became the second most important thing in my life.
These days, I try to protect them as much as I can. They are too young to completely understand what is going on, and not too happy when I leave for a long time. But they can feel when I am happy because I came back with a medal. And when I am happy, they are happy, and that is the most wonderful feeling.
My story would not be complete without a compliment to my wife, Annabelle. Thanks to her, I am able to express myself for 100 percent on the court. I can see how hard it is to share your life with an athlete, but she has been here every step of the way.
And all these trophies, I also owe them to them, my wife and my kids.
I know that the story will be over pretty soon, but I am happy because I did not cheat. I remained truthful and honest until the very last second of my career. Every commitment I made, I honoured.
Which is why I am still playing with Györ this season. We agreed that I would be part of the squad one more year, and I could not let them down.
This way, I feel good and can look everyone in the eyes and tell them I did the best I could. And I genuinely think I did, all along my career.
As I said at the beginning, I am at peace.