Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016 - 16
AT HL ETI C S
International student adjusts to American standards,
becomes national champion by Dottie Barnes | photo by Amanda Pitts
Remember in the 1970s when the U.S.
was going to completely convert to the
metric system? The difference between
meters and yards may seem small, but
Leonie Van Noort, a freestyle swimmer
on the Laker women's team, said the
difference "messed up my whole stroke."
Van Noort, a junior majoring in
marketing, transferred to Grand Valley
in 2015. An international student from
Leiden, Netherlands, she was used to
competing in distances measured in
meters. It's safe to say that - by any
measure - she adjusted quickly to
American pools during her first season
on the team.
"Leonie is our first-ever national
champion on the women's side," said
head coach Andy Boyce. "She earned
the title in two events - the 200- and
1,650-yard freestyle, and swam both in
record-breaking time for Grand Valley."
In fact, when the season ended in
March, Van Noort had broken four
additional Grand Valley records - in
the 100- (50.92), 500- (4:47.25) and
1,000-yard (9:52:51) freestyle, and
also in the 200 back (2:00.65).
She knocked 0.5 seconds off the
record for the 100 freestyle set in 2011,
and four seconds off the 200 freestyle
set in 2014. She crushed the records for
the 500-, 1,000- and 1,650 freestyle (by
9 seconds, nearly 14 seconds and nearly
26 seconds, respectively). She was also a
member of the 800-yard freestyle relay
team that set a new record this year
Van Noort is poised to break national
records next year.
"My goal for next year is to break
the national record in the 1,000-yard
freestyle," she said. "I went 9:52 this
year and the national record is 9:50.
I'm aiming for 9:48."
Not bad for someone who cried at
age 5 because she hated swimming so
much. Swimming lessons are mandatory
in the Netherlands and Van Noort said,
eventually, she got used to it. She said
her mother used to swim, her father
can't swim and her two older brothers
don't swim. But, there are pictures of her
grandfather swimming competitively.
"I think I get my talent from my
grandfather. When I realized I was a
good swimmer, I stuck with it," she said.
Van Noort won her first national
competition for her age group at 11.
She said she had good coaches in the
Netherlands who taught her proper
technique, like how to breathe every
three strokes instead of every two. "I
worked hard to get that down; many
people don't," she said.
Grand Valley was on her radar after
she saw the success of her friend Sven
Kardol, who came to Grand Valley from
the Netherlands in 2012 to compete on
the men's swim team. Van Noort said
since arriving at the university, she's
worked hard with long distance coach
slide over to the men's lanes and push
them, and they push her. So, it's a good
Van Noort said she loves being on a
team and values the support teammates
give each other.
"I was used to swimming alone at
home because no one really swims long
distance there," she said. "Here, I have
a whole team around me and that's
amazing. It has really helped me a lot.
They push you in whatever you do."
Van Noort said she and her teammates
are counting on being GLIAC champs
next year; they placed second this year.
Van Noort placed first in the 200-, 500-,
1,000- and 1,650-yard freestyles at the
GLIAC Championships in February.
"I have a whole team
around me ...
They push you in
whatever you do."
Leonie Van Noort
Justin Vasquez to transition from being
an open water swimmer.
"Leonie is a very focused swimmer
and very competitive," said
Vasquez. "When you combine those
characteristics, focusing on the little
details and the process of getting better
daily with the spirit of competing, you
have a special athlete - someone who is
going to accomplish great things. That's
what you get in Leonie."
Van Noort said practices here are
more intense and that has been good
for her. "Coach Justin has been working
with me to keep my head low when I
breathe and not to breathe coming off
the wall," she said.
The national champion is known for
"attacking practice" and motivating all
her teammates. "She will get out there
and push the men," said Boyce. "She will
Leonie Van Noort won two
individual titles (200- and
1,650-yard freestyle) at the
NCAA Division II Swimming
and Diving National
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016
Q&A Erika King
Not your average spring break
Off the Path
Fall Arts Celebration
Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016