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Track: it’s all in the family

Friday, June 01, 2012

By Andrew Knot

Breanna, left; Carissa, upper right; Lindsay, lower right There’s no shortage of clichés equating a team to a family, and there’s good reason for that. In season, athletes see each other daily, perhaps more than their respective families. Teammates liken each other to siblings. College coaches act as parental stand-ins. But for three related members of the track and field team, Lindsay VanderBrug and Carissa and Breanna Verkaik, the team-as-family cliché is more than an adage, it’s reality.

VanderBrug, a senior exercise science major and the Knights’ top hurdler, is cousin to Carissa Verkaik and her younger sister, Breanna. Carissa, a junior elementary education major and celebrated high jumper, is also the threetime MIAA Player of the Year and last year’s National Player of the Year in women’s basketball. Her freshman sister, Breanna, is studying nursing, specializes in middle distance and is also a regular contributor to the women’s basketball squad.

This year marks the first and only that VanderBrug and the Verkaiks have enjoyed as teammates. VanderBrug, who played volleyball her freshman year, decided to join track and field her junior year after coach Bret Otte talked her into it.

“I missed being on a team. Track would never have been my first choice in sports. I decided, ‘Why not give it a shot?’ and I loved it,” she said. Later that season, once Carissa’s basketball season came to an end, she joined her cousin on the team.

“Of course I loved it when Carissa came and joined,” VanderBrug said.

Similar to her cousin, Carissa entered Calvin unsure of her aspirations to participate on the track team. But she quickly succeeded. Last year, Carissa took home the MIAA title in the high jump while posting a national qualifying height. What’s more, the sport afforded her and her sister, Breanna an opportunity to connect with each other and Lindsay.

“We are a great support system for each other, always being able to encourage each other in our different events in track,” Breanna said.

“We always try to find each other and see how the other did in their events for the day. We try to keep up on what the other is doing,” said Carissa.

They have a lot to keep up on. Lindsay established a role that extended far beyond her specialty of hurdles. VanderBrug trained for the heptathlon and competed in all seven of the included events this year.

Like her sister, Breanna joined the squad with little idea of what to expect. She didn’t even know what events she would be running. Despite some struggles with injury, she has emerged as one of the Knights’ premier middle-distance runners.

But perhaps success should be expected when dealing with a family of this athletic pedigree. Carissa and Breanna’s father, Mike, was a member of the 1980 cross-country team that took eighth place in the NCAA III National Championships. Now the head coach at Holland Christian, Mike Verkaik has maintained a steady influence on his daughters’ athletic accomplishments. He still, Carissa quips, occasionally checks to see if his cross country picture hangs in the Van Noord Arena.

Kyle VanderBrug, father of Lindsay, is similarly no stranger to athletic success at Calvin. Thirteenth on the Knights’ career scoring list with 1,130 points, VanderBrug was a first-team All-MIAA selection in 1985. After his daughter took her sophomore year off from sports, Kyle tried to bribe his daughter into joining a team with a pair of shoes.

Athletics have always played a big role in Lindsay, Carissa and Breanna’s individual upbringings. And when they’re together, things are no different. All three fondly recalled annual trips to their grandparents’ house in Massachusetts, where, just like at home, sports factor heavily into the conversation.

“I think athletics as a whole, whenever we get together, are one of the big topics of conversation,” said Carissa.

Lately, those reunions happened a little closer to home, because each track meet offered an opportunity for the family to get together.

“It is almost a mini family reunion at track meets when Lindsay’s parents come out as well,” remarked Breanna.

But Calvin has provided all three of them with far more than an athletic haven. Though they’re at different points in their college careers, Breanna, Carissa and Lindsay remain grateful to Calvin for the supportive spiritual community it provides.

“At Calvin, there’s the community of people that support you and we also have the common connectedness. That we’re doing this for a higher purpose,” said Carissa “That’s what’s really made the difference at Calvin, and made this such a great experience.”

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