This is me: Clara Woltering
The young handball players of today could learn plenty from Clara Woltering. The former German international goalkeeper knows a thing or two about winning medals. And about lifting the EHF Champions League trophy. And about keeping 40,000 chickens happy. Yes, these days she's juggling working on the family farm with coaching keepers for Dortmund and the national team - it's not easy... but as she explains in our latest This is Me feature, hard work always pays off. Enjoy.
This is Me: Clara Woltering
It is spring, we have to fertilise our fields now. When you own a farm with 250 bulls, 40,000 chickens and 50 acres of land around, there is always a lot of work. It is just me, my father and my mother. It is a classical family farm in Westphalia. In some weeks it is time to plant the corn.
Today, our farm is the focal point of my life, but still there is my passion for handball. This sport is like a virus for me - once you are infected, you never lose it again.
It always had been my highest principle in handball and in farm life to give 100 per cent. This is what I tell everybody: if you want to achieve something, regardless what it is, you have to give it 100 per cent, you need to have this constant will and ambition.
I am the youngest of three sisters, and the elder ones went to play handball, so five-year-old Clara went and joined them. While they were training, I was watching - but finally the coach phoned my parents: your youngest one has to play too.
So I started playing handball, first as a field player. But one day, our goalkeeper said farewell, so we made a team internal contest: who will be the new goalkeeper. All other girls were older and cleverer than me. They were afraid of the balls and did not save any shots. But I was motivated to save as many shots as possible and this is how I became a goalkeeper at our home club DJK Coesfeld, close to the city of Munster. Today I can say: this contest was perfect for my career – even though I am sure I could play in any position except line player, it was right to choose the one between the posts.
I was invited for the local selection, the regional selection and then our federal selection - an in that one, I got to know Anne Müller - and funny enough, even before I started playing for the German youth national team we swore to each other that one day we will play for the same club, and we will finish our career in the same club. Funny enough, both of our ideas came true later.
When Anne signed her contract at Bundesliga club Leverkusen, when were juniors, she said: “I know a good goalkeeper, maybe you need one, too?” This is, how my first major contract in handball came into existence. Of course, at that time I had already been more than a helping hand on our farm. I was daddy’s girl, and my sisters earlier had announced not to take over the farm later. When I was 16 I passed my tractor driving license, parallel to playing handball at Leverkusen, so I started my apprenticeship as farmer after I tried to study economics for one year, which was impossible to combine with professional handball.
Those years were like hell: tough work the whole day on the farm, handball training in the evening, travelling to matches – plus I had become part of the German women’s national team matches abroad. But as I said, I was always eager to do both parts of my life properly. When my apprenticeship was over, I started to work on our farm, which meant even more travelling.
But it all was worth it.
When I was a young goalkeeper, I only had one role model: Andreas Thiel, who everybody knew by his nickname The Wizard. He was the German number 1 in the men’s team, and as that time there was almost no women’s handball on TV in Germany, so I could not find any female role model. When I joined Bayer Leverkusen, The Wizard became my goalkeeper coach - and for 11 years I learned so much from him. Today, he is the President of the German women’s handball Bundesliga - and therefore we are still in permanent exchange.
At Bayer, I was also lucky to play with some great goalkeepers such as Sabine Englert and Debbie Klijn. Bine - alongside with EHF Champions League ambassador Anja Althaus, my teammate in the national team at that time - was involved in the biggest step of my career. Both knew Bojana Popovic from playing in Denmark, and she was searching for a new goalkeeper for Buducnost Podgorica. They mentioned my name, we phoned, and finally I went to Montenegro.
From a pure sporting point of view, I had the time of my life in Podgorica. We won the EHF Champions League twice, we had incredible training camps at the Sea or in the mountains, and I made friends for a lifetime, which is even more important.
I learnt a new language, got to know a completely different country, and for the first time in my life, I was a 100 per cent professional handball player, with nothing else other than handball after I had finished my school as agriculture engineer at Cologne.
I told my parents, I will join Buducnost for one year, then I would return to our farm. In the end I stayed for four years. I had to excuse myself quite often, because I had told them: I will take over the farm, but they could count on me, I am traditionalist, so there was no way out for me. My parents and our farm survived those four years without me. And I had survived the traffic on the roads of Montenegro.
In my last match for Buducnost, I won the EHF Champions League for the second time and I was awarded MVP of the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest - what more can you receive as a farewell?
I am still in constant contact with Bojana Popovic and Maja Savic - and though there is a lot to do in the summer when you own a farm, I definitely want to spend some holiday at Montenegro this year.
I went back to Germany in 2015 - and again I told my parents, my stay at Borussia Dortmund would be for only one year. But yet again it ended up being four. However, thanks to the agreement with the club, I could fulfil my tasks at the farm, as I did not have to come for every training session. And it paid off, I am sure, because nobody could have said that I only got my playing time because of my name, it was always because of my performances. In between, in 2017, I had finished my national team career after exactly 222 matches for Germany, including the bronze medal at the World Championship 2007 and being part of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
In 2019, I played my last match for Dortmund, finished in the same team with Anne Müller, who after several different clubs than me, finally played at Dortmund too, which closed the circle.
Since then, my focus has been on the farm, my first big project was the reframing of it - before we only had bulls and fields, now we have up to 40,000 chickens. Parallel I am engaged in various agricultural organisations, as I see every day that the image of farmers is anything but positive in Germany. We have to fight constantly for our reputation.
But still, I am involved in handball, as the goalkeeper coach at Borussia Dortmund and as part of the newly created goalkeeper coaching staff at the German handball Federation, alongside the former Kiel, Flensburg and Sweden goalkeeper Mattias Andersson.
I hope that many girls will try to become professional handball players, of course in combination with a dual career - maybe not as a farmer as a first choice, but in different jobs.
My motto is: you can always make it, if you want. Regardless, if we talk about sport or profession.
This is me, Clara Woltering.