In 2004, cafe owner Dirk Baelus (°1979) starts to focus on becoming a professional athlete. Eating natural food, he notices he feels more energetic, he recuperates faster, and he finally gets rid of the health problems that have been plaguing him since his youth. Discover the inspiring story of this triathlete and entrepreneur.
For most of his childhood, Dirk gets ill multiple times a year. Antibiotics run like a thread through his daily life. “When I was fourteen, it got really bad,” Dirk recounts. “They had to carry me to the hospital. I couldn't walk anymore because of an advanced hip bone infection. I got antibiotics through an IV for over a month. It’s one of the most painful memories of my life. It felt like there was barbed wire running through my body.”
Barely four years after this hospital stint, Dirk gets another scare. He is diagnosed with pericarditis or an inflammation of the lining around the heart. Again, it’s antibiotics to the rescue. “I was in bed for weeks. The year after, I got shingles. It just didn’t stop. It was clear that my immune system was weak and left me vulnerable to infections.”
Second-hand road bike
The life Dirk leads after his studies in Accountancy does not help his health – to say the least. He runs a café in his hometown of Arendonk and isn’t taking good care of his body. He works long hours, eats unhealthy food, smokes and enjoys the more-than-occasional beer.
But in August 2004, Dirk’s life changes dramatically. A regular at the cafe tells him about his plans for a quarter triathlon, and Dirk is immediately intrigued. He used to like running and cycling as a kid, and would race around the block with his nephew. Shortly after the chat, Dirk gets injured during one of his soccer matches. In October 2004, he says goodbye to soccer and decides to give triathlon a try. He hopes that his new sports regime will help him to finally get rid of his long-standing health problems.
Dirk buys himself running shoes, swimwear and a second-hand road bike, and he gets to it – at first hesitantly, and then passionately. In June 2005, he participates in his first quarter triathlon. Even though the other swimmers are way faster: it’s a fantastic experience for Dirk, who feels that the sport does wonders for his self-confidence.
Still, it’s not all smooth sailing. Dirk: “When I started exercising, I thought I would become the healthiest person in the world. But after a year, I got sick again.” That’s when Dirk begins to look in more detail at what he eats …
Focus on food
Intuitively, Dirk starts looking for the best food, diet or lifestyle to fuel his intense training sessions. He decides to eliminate meat, dairy and refined sugar from his menu for two weeks. “I became a different person and could really feel myself thrive,” he says.
In January 2006, Dirk joins triathlon club TriaMo in Mol, where Michel Sprangers coaches and advises him. Dirk secretly dreams of becoming an Iron Man. But he wants to get better and stronger in a healthy and responsible manner.
On October 31, 2006, Dirk closes his café. From then on, he combines his new passion for triathlon with half-time jobs, and he keeps exploring the world of natural, pure nutrition. His body has problems digesting traditional sports food, so Dirk tries out new diets, devours books and notices how natural, plant-based foods heal his body and mind. He starts to feel more and more alive and energetic. Since January 2007, Dirk has been keeping to 100% natural and balanced meals with pure, plant-based ingredients.
In February 2008, Dirk does a food internship in the French Pyrenees, where he immerses himself even more in natural foods. In 2009, he lives among Japanese sea farmers for ten weeks, getting to know plenty of new recipes and ingredients. Back home, he becomes a nutrition coach and he starts to give cooking workshops. From 2009 onwards, Dirk achieves stunning results in his triathlons. Also in 2009, he participates in his first Ironman of Hawaii, finishing 52nd in his age group.
His own sports food brand
Dirk wants to use his balanced meals to create compact cycling and on-the-road nutrition. Through trial and error, he develops the most natural sports nutrition. In January 2012, he launches his first sports bar under the name Innerme Pure Power. In September 2014, Omega Pharma acquires his business: Innerme becomes a part of Oce Bio. Yet Dirk remains at the wheel of the sports nutrition brand, which expands its offering to include gels and sports drinks.
When American health player Perrigo takes over Omega Pharma and Marc Coucke leaves, Innerme ends up on a sidetrack within the company. Therefore, Dirk resumes ownership after just over two years. He continues to build his brand to this day – with the help of Kim Clijsters, who joins the business in 2019.
Between 2011 and 2015, Dirk writes three books about his experiences (in Dutch): Pure kracht (2011), Op weg naar balans (2015) and De basis van natuurlijke voeding (2015), a practical cookbook.
Endings and beginnings
In 2019, Dirk ends his impressive 15-year triathlon career with a bang. As a forty-year-old, he twice becomes the Belgian champion in the masters division, and he finishes his final Ironman under nine hours (a feat he accomplished four times before).
Today, Dirk still trains and participates in running and cycling competitions; he promotes natural nutrition both at home and abroad; he perfects Innerme and teaches cooking classes. He also brings athletes together. In 2013, Dirk founds the Innerme Triathlon Team, which finishes training sessions and trips with delicious, healthy meals. Later Dirk establishes a Granfondo Team, and both teams merge in 2022 to become Team Tæru Innerme.
Tæru is also the name of the unique sports complex that Dirk starts building in 2022 in the Belgian Ardennes. It provides athletes with everything they need to work out and relax, such as a giant sports hall, a swimming pool, a cyclocross track, altitude rooms, massage tables, a professional kitchen and other impressive facilities.
From his excesses as a cafe owner to his life as a health-focused triathlete and successful entrepreneur: it’s not the fairytale it seems. Dirk has come a long way: both figuratively – physically and mentally – and literally. His passion for triathlon took him all the way to Hawaii; his search for pure nutrition all the way to Japan. On the road to balance. Yin and yang.
Dirk is pure, just like his ingredients and dishes. Get inspired and learn how to boost your health with natural foods.