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Megann VanderVliet decides to throw on
By Annalise Venhuizen

Most people find it frustrating when life doesn't work out as planned. When her athletic career took an unexpected turn, senior Megann VanderVliet found it comforting.

As a high school student in Oakville, Ont., VanderVliet participated in an array of sporting events: figure skating, rugby, basketball, volleyball and soccer. Naturally, athletics played a part in VanderVliet's choosing a college. “I e-mailed the coach about soccer the summer before coming to Calvin, and that's what really got me excited about coming to Calvin,” VanderVliet said.

Also influencing the decision were family ties to west Michigan: “I had connections here. I grew up coming to Grand Rapids. My mom graduated from Calvin and has family in the area,” VanderVliet said.

As expected, VanderVliet played soccer during the fall of her freshman year at Calvin. “I did soccer, and that was fun,” she said. “But after soccer, I considered my athletic career was pretty much over.”

That was, until the unexpected happened. “Coach Kim came up to me in the weight room and said, ‘I think you can throw.' So I thought, ‘Why not?'” VanderVliet said. “I don't think I knew what throwing even was.” VanderVliet also didn't know how important throwing would become in shaping her college years and her plans for the future.

The techniques came quickly to VanderVliet. At the end of her first season handling a shot put, VanderVliet qualified for the NCAA III national meet with a throw of 44-1. The moment is a career highlight for the thrower. “The shot just came out of my hand and I thought, ‘That's going to go,'” VanderVliet said. “Then it landed, and I heard [Coach] Norm [Zylstra] scream. It was total shock.”

VanderVliet's success as a thrower continued in her sophomore season, when she again qualified for nationals and earned All-American honors, placing third with a throw of 44-6. The mark remains her personal best in the event. “I never expected being a national competitor. Throwing opened up so many opportunities and helped me discover talents I didn't know I had,” VanderVliet said.

As those talents continued to develop in her junior year, VanderVliet had to switch roles from beginner to expert. In previous years, she had competed and practiced with more experienced teammates. “Now I was an upperclassman and became a leader on the team,” she said. “I had to learn to push myself.” VanderVliet made the transition and her third trip to nationals, again becoming an All-American with a seventh-place finish in the shot put.

After being named the MIAA's Most Outstanding Field Event Performer this season, VanderVliet participated in the national meet. Her qualifying discus throw was a new personal record: “This year a highlight was throwing 151-1 in March. It proved to me that if you train hard all winter your techniques are going to improve,” VanderVliet said. Throwing in windy and rainy conditions at nationals, VanderVliet closed out her collegiate throwing career as a four-time All-American. She placed fifth in shot put (44-6) and fourth in discus (141-7), contributing points to help the Calvin women take home a second-place trophy.

“It's a good way to end my time at Calvin. I can't believe how far I've come,” VanderVliet said. “But it's bittersweet because I know there's more in there. I feel like I haven't reached my potential yet, and I want to see where I can take it.

“I've made the decision to compete at Canadian nationals in July in the shot and disc,” VanderVliet said. “The Olympic trials are next year, and it's a long-term dream to go.”

That dream is not far-fetched. Though she's never competed in any Canadian competitions, VanderVliet's marks would already qualify her for the Canadian Olympic team. “When Norm told me, ‘You know that your throw qualifies you for the Canadian Olympic team,' I was totally shocked,” VanderVliet said. “That put it all into perspective.”

The techniques and lessons throwing taught her provide VanderVliet with comfort as she anticipates the next steps in her life. “Looking back, the biggest thing for me is that I learned that everything happens for a reason. I spent so many years playing soccer, and I would've never started throwing if I hadn't played soccer,” VanderVliet said. “Seeing how things worked out gives me confidence for the future.”