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Sophomore runner leaps from reserve to MVP
By Derek Neice

Ben VanWykCalvin’s cross country and track and field programs have always had a tradition steeped in quality, competitiveness and academic excellence. This past cross country season saw one Knight come into his own in his senior year and continue this tradition by breaking into the top seven of the team.

Senior Ben Van Wyk, a native of Highland, N.J., and graduate of Sussex High School, contributed significantly to the success of the Calvin men’s cross country team for the past two years. He also is a member of the track and field team, for which his premier race is the steeplechase run.

“I would definitely say that running for Calvin has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Van Wyk said. “You get this feeling that you’re a part of a bigger tradition, and it’s a really passionate program.”

This year Van Wyk was named to the All-MIAA first team and to the Great Lakes Regional team after finishing 15th at the Great Lakes Regional meet and third at the MIAA championships. He also ran at the NCAA Division III National Championships helping the team to a finish of eighth place overall. Van Wyk finished 77th overall with a time of 25:20.

In 2009, Van Wyk was named to the Great Lakes All-Region team, placing 22nd. He also helped the Knights to a 13th-place finish at nationals.

“The cross country team is always very ambitious, and that’s how we’ve always operated at Calvin,” Van Wyk said. “This season I was a little disappointed with the way things finished, but, overall, it’s still just an awesome thing to be part of.

“The coaches really know how to train you up right, and they’ve got the workouts you need to be sharp at the right times,” he continued. “We’re lucky enough to have the coaches we do, and I owe a lot to the staff here.”

During the winter and spring, Van Wyk stays in shape running for Calvin’s indoor and outdoor track teams. As a sophomore, Van Wyk was picked to run the steeplechase in the MIAA championships after a late injury to one of the primary runners; it was his first time running the event.

Now, as a senior, the event is Van Wyk’s best, and for the upcoming spring he has already posted a NCAA III provisional-qualifying time of 9:12.89. This past spring Van Wyk placed second in the steeplechase at the 2010 MIAA Track and Field championships and then qualified for and finished 11th in the 2010 NCAA III Track and Field Championships. He hopes for an even better finish this year with Calvin coach and three-time Steeplechase Olympian Brian Diemer providing guidance along the way.

“For outdoor track, my goal is to get to nationals in the steeplechase and also in the 5,000 meter,” Van Wyk said of the upcoming season. “I would hope to be able to get an All-American spot in one or the other, or both.

“Having Diemer as your coach helps a lot because he knows all about the right strategy for a steeplechase race,” he continued. “Diemer always emphasizes being patient [in the steeplechase] and keeping your space.”

VanWyk is also a disciplined worker in the classroom. A six-time member of the Dean’s List and a three-time member of the MIAA Academic Honor Roll, he will graduate with a social studies and secondary education major, with the hopes of teaching high school history.

“Balancing school and running is a tough thing, but I actually think that running helps me be better at my schoolwork because it forces me to be more disciplined in general,” Van Wyk said.

Continuing Calvin’s tradition of strong running, Van Wyk will look to finish well this winter and spring.