By Calvin Assistant Sports Information Director Jeremy Crawford
College can be a frightening time, not knowing anyone and having few familiar faces. That is not the issue for the Van Lenten family, with three sisters on the Calvin track & field team. The Van Lenten family has had a strong 2018 season and have been feeding off of each other's success. The trio from Hawthorne, New Jersey, has acknowledged what a special year this is for have senior Kayla Van Lenten, junior Erin Van Lenten and freshman Brooke Van Lenten all on the same team for the first time ever.
Kayla Van Lenten was the first of the sisters to come to Michigan, but she was following in the footsteps of her family.
"I decided to go to Calvin because I was really interested in the athletic program here," said Kayla Van Lenten. "Our dad and grandpa went to Calvin for a while too, that is how I knew about the school. I visited and I really liked the facilities. Our high school is also associated with a lot of different ways. There were always teachers back home pushing people towards Calvin."
Calvin is a school with strong family ties, but the decision was not an easy one for Brooke Van Lenten.
"For me, my high school basketball and soccer coach was very enthusiastic about Calvin," said Brooke Van Lenten. "He had a daughter who went here, so he was very influential in the decision for me. It's funny, when I was growing up when both of them decided to go to Calvin and my dad was saying 'Calvin is a good school' it was always on the map for me, but I never wanted to go to Calvin.was always the one who wanted to branch out and do my own thing. Growing up, all of my siblings were committed to track and cross country their entire lives and I was involved in soccer and basketball and other different contact sports. I did have other schools I was looking at and track specifically I looked at some other schools. I ultimately decided on Calvin because I could focus on working on athletics, without it taking over my academic and social life."
Kayla talked about the transition of what it was like from not having anyone at Calvin to having both of her sisters at Calvin.
"My freshman year, I was really homesick," said Kayla Van Lenten. "The track team was really welcoming, but our family is extremely close and I missed having my sisters around. Track was different for me freshman year because I did high jump and sprints and I didn't start pole vault until sophomore year. Trying new things were exciting. Eventually, Erin joined the team and we bonded a lot through that. Then the more the merrier, I think this is a really special time to have all three of us together. Each day, I am thankful to have them in my last athletic experience and I couldn't do it without them."
The opportunity to compete with each other has allowed each other to grow.
"I think that it is really cool to watch both of my sisters grow," said Erin Van Lenten. "To see how successful we can be in different ways and how we can help the team with each of our individualized talents. We have always done athletics growing up, but there hasn't been a time until now that we have all been on the same team. This has been really special and it has been great to have teammates that I love and to have my sisters on the team. There is a really strong support system."
Competing with each other has led to success in 2018. The Van Lenten trio accumulated 14 personal bests in the 2018 indoor season and 55 points at the MIAA Indoor Championships.
"I think that it is awesome that our events are typically close to each other," said Kayla Van Lenten. "Brooke and I both do pole vault together and that can be fun. Even though we are sisters and love each other, it is fun to be positively competitive against each other and we help push each other. It is fun to see when Erin or Brooke is doing well it gives us positive energy.
Erin Van Lenten has benefited from having her sisters on the team. At the 2018 MIAA Indoor Championships, she recorded victories in the 60-meter hurdles and in the triple jump.
"Growing up I have always looked up to Kayla," said Erin Van Lenten. "I have looked up to Brooke as well, I have always wanted to impress them. Being able to compete with one another makes me want to work harder and to do better for them and our team. I think that we have a good energy bouncing off of each other."
While it has been fun to have sisters on the team, they opened up on how it is important to have sisters there in good times and in bad.
"I think being the youngest sister and being new to track in general, I have been the open end to why none of us have all been on the same team growing up," said Brooke Van Lenten. "Being on a team with my sisters and being able to experience being on the Calvin track team coming together as our own family, within that I have my two sisters along with me it is a really fun experience. I am grateful to have them with me to have them here to support me if I am having a good day or a bad day competing."
Even though all three were active and participated in many teams growing up, the 2018 track and field experience is the first time that all three have been on a team together. Erin and Kayla and been on the same cross country team in high school. But the three all played separately for the most part in sports like soccer, track, basketball, tennis and softball. This unique opportunity is one that they will not forget.
"Being able to compete together, especially with Kayla is an interesting dynamic," said Brooke Van Lenten. "We do the same event in the pole vault, so it is almost like we work as a unit. Even though it is an individual event, pole vaulting is a very friendly community, with Kayla that is multiplied times 1000, I always want Kayla to do the best she can do and she is always rooting for me on the other side. Having us all together on the same team for me is very fulfilling like Kayla said, this is going to be the only time that we are going to be able to do this and I think this will be something we will cherish for a long time.
While they love competing with each other and motivate each other. There is still the sibling rivalry and the passion to win.
"It is exciting, but it can also be frustrating," said Kayla Van Lenten. "When I see one of them doing really well I am excited for them. But then I am like shoot now I have to make this next height. Which is a good thing, because we push each other. Back when we did cross country, it was similar because one of us would be a little bit ahead and bring the other one further and we would both get a better time and that is what teammates are for. This for all of our team, Calvin is so encouraging, even though track is such an individual sport."
At the MIAA Indoor Championships in February, the Van Lenten sisters had a very unique and special moment. In the high jump, both Erin and Kayla cleared 1.5 meters to finish tied for second place and the sisters were able to share the podium.
"It was exciting at the MIAA Indoor Championships this year," said Erin Van Lenten. "It was exciting to see each one of us doing well. But a really special moment for me was to share the podium with Kayla and there is a great photo of us together on the podium. That is really special, not only to share a victory with a teammate, but to have that be my sister standing with me, that was really exciting and I cannot wait for there years to come and see Brooke succeed and have her beside me as well."
The older two sisters talked about the rare opportunity of sharing a medal.
"I think we all have a very competitive nature," said Erin Van Lenten. "When we do compete against each other, we are all rooting for each other to do our best, but at the same time, you want to come out on top. In the MIAA Championships, Kayla and I competed in the high jump together, it wasn't either of our best events of the day, but I think it was funny how we were both struggling on clearing heights and that we almost fed off of each other and in the end we tied and finished in second so we were able to stand on the podium together. Kayla, of course, took home the medal, they said they were going to send me a medal, but because it is Kayla's last year… she deserves to have the medal."
This year has provided a new learning opportunity as well. With Erin competing in and learning new events. She is able to learn from her sisters.
"It has been an interesting year for me, learning a lot of new events," said Erin Van Lenten. "In the heptathlon, we compete in javelin as well. That is one of Brooke's best events, so it has been interesting being able to learn and take directions from my younger sister and to have her lead the way."
Brooke added that Erin has a tough time with that. "I will give her a little suggestion like 'hold your arm up higher' and she will be like whatever," said Brooke Van Lenten.
"I think at the end of the day, I appreciate having both of you lead me in the right direction," said Erin Van Lenten. "Even if I don't always want to take your advice."
The three talked about how they can be a lot to handle on the track. Coach Otte talked about the joy of this rare opportunity and some of the challenges that come with it.
"The cool thing is that the family has made a huge sacrifice to send their three daughters a long way from New Jersey to Calvin and they are in similar events but they are all unique," said Calvin track & field head coach Bret Otte. "I would call them rascals, yeah they are little rascals. They do like to laugh and poke fun at each other. Having three of them on a team is interesting and can be an adventure and can make us laugh."
Through the many ups and downs, the blessings and the challenges, the sisters realize how rare of an opportunity this is and
"I look forward to every day," said Kayla Van Lenten. "I get to see my sisters every day in school and at track. At the beginning of practice, we will yell at each other from across the track. College is such a busy time, but we always make an effort to hang out together. We are looking forward to the spring season, where we will continue to get better. Brooke will be doing javelin, which is her best event. So there are many great things to come. This has been amazing, I love both of you and I am really glad I get to be here with the both of you."