The front of his match shirt is adorned with his sponsors' logos, but his collar sports an eggplant. That is because when Dirk van Duijvenbode is not competing, he is an administrative assistant at the Van Onselen eggplant farm in the Netherlands. This is also why, in the world of darts, he is known as the 'Aubergenius.'
Hardcore music blasting, a rousing announcement, and the roar of the crowd. Dirk loves that. With his signature arm motion, he steps toward the stage at the start the match. A world that is miles apart from the greenhouses full of eggplants at Van Onselen, yet Dirk feels right at home here as well. "I began working here at 15. I'd come before school to pick - just another - row of eggplant, then I'd end up being late for class," he recalls.
The company set up a professional dart court next to the canteen just for him. So Dirk can now combine his training with his work. During the week, he trains there for about three hours a day. His co-workers join in occasionally, and Van Duijvenbode admits they sometimes beat him. "In a leg, not the match. But even then, I can take it very badly."
'Is darts a professional sport?' we asked him this at the AGF- Kennis(sen)dag earlier this month. Dirk recognizes that there are plenty of arguments against that, "but when you see what I do and have to sacrifice for it, it's more sport than play. I sometimes don't take a single day off in 100," he says. Besides daily training, Dirk is on the road every weekend for, often, international, multi-day competitions and tournaments. His employer is flexible with his overtime so that he can participate.
But Dirk, who became a father earlier this year, gives much up for his passion. He misses important occasions, like parties and birthdays. "I only make an expectation for family weddings. That is sometimes quite difficult, especially when you're knocked out in the first round. But if you want to participate in a top sport, you sometimes have to be selfish. Half-heartedness won't get you to the top," Dirk knows.
But all that sacrifice is not in vain. The young father has recently worked his way up to the world's top ten best dart players. But he wants more. Despite a current shoulder injury, he wants to reach the top four. The World Championship is high on Dirk's wish list, too. "We take a professional approach to training. And I try to get the best out of it," he says. Much training lies ahead before Dirk can achieve those goals. And that has started. "The company recently automated some things, so I work fewer hours." He can also work remotely, whether at a tournament in the UK or at home in the Netherlands.
As a joke, Dirk brought an eggplant to a competition a few years ago. When he reached the World Grand Prix final, he took the opportunity to promote this fruit, saying, "Everybody should eat eggplants." After that, a British presenter dubbed him 'Aubergenius,' and that nickname stuck. Fans take eggplants to matches, and the administrative assistant has even had one thrown at his head on occasion - though that was meant to be less complimentary. "It's part of my image, but things must stay civil," Dirk says. The eggplant on his collar will, of course, remain.
Does his company benefit from him promoting this fruit-vegetable? "That's hard to say because we export most of our eggplants. There might be a slight increase in the long run. Eggplants are an unfamiliar product, so all the attention might make more people aware of them," Dirk concludes.