BOGACZYK: Paulina Heads from Holland to Herd … to Rio?
The Word on the Herd for January 15
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Half of Elisabeth Paulina’s double major at Marshall University is in applied mathematics. She didn’t need anything quite that advanced to know she broke a Herd track and field record in her first meet.
Paulina, a freshman sprinter from the Netherlands, didn’t just break the Herd indoor record in the 600 meters in the Marshall Opener on the Jeff Small Track back on Dec. 3. She obliterated the old mark of 1:37.12 set by Loren Dyer in 2014.
The 6-foot, long-striding Paulina set a school, track and event record of 1:32.80. And as the Herd returns to its 2015-16 indoor season this weekend at the Kentucky Invitational, Paulina has a focus beyond that impressive start and the 600.
“Actually, I feel Elisabeth has a fairly good chance to be able to represent her country in the 400 in the Olympics this year,” said Don Yentes, the veteran MU assistant coach who works with sprinters. “She still has a lot of improving to do -- she’s not at the Olympic standard yet -- but she’s shown glimpses in practice that she will be able to do that.
“I think she has that ability. It’s just her fourth year running track, so she’s really young, really starting to develop. Elisabeth is really intelligent, very smart … She understands what we’re trying to get done in training, an extremely hard worker, a really pleasant person to be around.”
Paulina – she says she’s a “chocolate addict” -- is as serious about track and field as she is her academics, where the second-semester freshman has a 3.58 GPA in the double major of mechanical engineering and applied math.
The 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in August offer her a carrot to chase all season for the Herd.
“That’s my goal for this year, but the (qualifying time) is really hard,” Paulina said after a recent practice in the Herd’s indoor facility. “But I think if I try to do my best and practice and learn, and I can make it there.”
The Olympic qualifying standard in the women’s 400 is 52.20 seconds. Paulina’s personal record in the 400 is 54.42.
“Yes, that’s more than two seconds faster, but I see where my speed already is improving,” Paulina said. “I’m not getting tired as easily. When I run the 600, it’s good, the 800 also. It helps my speed. The 600 helps me get used to running through (the 400), so I don’t die the last 50 (meters) or so.
“To qualify, you just have to run the limits, but a country can only send three athletes in each event. So, if there are four or more that run the limits in Holland, then the final of the Dutch Championships will be the trial to see who goes to the Olympics.”
Paulina, who turns 20 on Jan. 27, graduated from CSG Culvijn Vreewijk School in Rotterdam in 2014. She didn’t go to college immediately, hoping for scholarship dollars to study abroad. She “practiced, did some modeling, tutoring; I was still pretty busy” in her hiatus from her education.
And how she landed at Marshall is a tale of intrigue, too.
“I got a random email last winter, early in (February) 2015, from a person I did not know, from Ohio,” Marshall Coach Jeff Small said. “He said he was a scout of some sort for college softball players. I guess he went to Europe on a business trip, looking for softball players, heard about Elisabeth, told us she was tall, lean, good runner, very smart and thought we might be interested.
“I have no idea why he picked us. I don’t know if he’s a Marshall grad or not, and I don’t remember his name. I forwarded the information to Don (Yentes), and he found track video of her and contacted her, emailed a couple of times.
“The first thing Elisabeth wanted to know is whether she could double major.”
Paulina tried to fill in some of the blanks in her “recruitment.”
“It was through a girl I knew in Holland,” the Herd freshman said. “She knew a softball coach – not here, but in Ohio. She told him, ‘I know this girl, she runs this and this,’ and they contacted me, offered a scholarship. It was hard to get a scholarship anywhere else because I’d already graduated from high school and was late in years.”
The contact was Kirt Whiteside, of Delaware, Ohio, whose deep connections to softball include his ownership of the rights to the women’s World Cup. Whiteside said he was asked by a friend in Holland to perhaps assist Paulina in getting a track scholarship to a U.S. school.
“I know nothing about track, but I like to help people,” Whiteside said by phone from Rotterdam on Thursday. “I learned what I could about Elisabeth and then called some schools’ softball coaches to pass along the information. I talked to Ohio State’s coach, but they had just given out their last scholarship.
“I called Shonda (Stanton, Marshall’s softball coach) and she gave me the contacts for the track coach (Small), and I emailed them with what I knew about (Paulina). I contacted a couple of Florida schools, too, and the reason it was Marshall is they made the first contact back.”
Paulina has visited Whiteside and his wife at their Ohio home.
“She was here over the Thanksgiving holiday,” Whiteside said. “We had to explain to her what ‘Black Friday’ was. She didn’t know. Never had heard of it. … Elisabeth tried driving. I joked with her that she’s a terrible driver. Great person, but terrible driver.”
Paulina – her parents are natives of Curacao and Aruba -- said she wanted to head to America, specifically, for the next level of her education.
“I wanted to come to the United States because I like the way they combine sports with academics in this country,” she said. “In Holland, if I stayed there, I could do my double major, but I wouldn’t be able to do sports with it. You had to do one or the other, and I wanted to do both seriously.”
She also has talked about perhaps getting her undergraduate degree in three years.
“My goal is to get my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering,” Paulina said. “So, I want to go to grad school. As for (a second major in) applied math – I don’t know. I just like math. That’s why I chose it. The two (majors) both apply science. I don’t know yet exactly what I want to do after school.
“My father is a technology teacher in high school, so … and I got interested in math, technology and science and stuff, and my high school also did a lot of projects with engineering and extra things for students who were interested.
“At Marshall, I don’t know if I’d say there are surprises in moving here; I just needed something different and so I left Holland. I like that there aren’t so many people, and the campus is kind of small, everything is within walking distance and it’s beautiful. The town, Huntington, there is stuff to do and if not, you can just hang out with your friends here. It’s been good.”
Paulina said prior to jumping into track and field, her previous athletic endeavors came in gymnastics, “three or four years … then I got too tall.” As a track athlete, she knows she’s still learning.
“This is my fourth year in track,” Paulina said. “I got into track through my PE teacher in school, because he saw me running fast in PE class. He said, ‘You should go to track. There’s a track club (in Rotterdam) and this coach, he can help you with it.’
“I thought, ‘OK, I’ll see what it’s like.’ I started running and one year I came in eighth at the Dutch Championships for juniors and a year later I became the Dutch junior champion. That told me I had some talent, so I stayed with it.”
Paulina gives credit to Yentes and Small for her improvement since arriving at Marshall, where former head strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair – he moved to Georgia’s football program last week – introduced her to a weight and exercise program that’s enhanced her athleticism.
“The coaches here, they focus a little more on my starts and my speed than I was used to,” Paulina said. “Working with medicine balls, my strength, those things are different. (Sinclair) left the schedule here for me, so that’s good. I’ve gotten a little bit stronger with the exercises, and it’s all paying off.”
Paulina also runs the 4x400 relay for the Herd, and said in the current indoor season she also hopes to have opportunities in the 300 and 800, as well as the 600. When the outdoor season arrives in March, “I’ll do the 400, and hope to mix it in with the 100, 200, and if there is space, do the 800, too.”
Yentes said Paulina used her year away from schooling well, especially on the track.
“She made a big step last year, probably cut a second and a half off her PR time in the 400 last year -- and that’s a big jump,” the Herd sprinters’ coach said. “We’re trying to train her right now at a 53-second pace – and she’s been faster than that at times, and days when she’s not been faster than that. Some days have been really outstanding. Other days Elisabeth has been fairly average – but that’s the life of a sprinter.
“She’s going to have to make even a bigger jump to make the 2016 Games, but the things she’s doing in training shows she can do it.”
In other words, it would take an Olympic effort from a student-athlete who has done more than run onto the Herd’s radar in the last 365 days.