International Student Success Spotlight: Marloes van Eijkelenburg

International students find their way to Western Illinois University via many different pathways. One student, Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, had a bit of a unique experience that led her to the Midwestern region of western Illinois. She found her way to Western via a chance meeting in 2012 (in Europe) with students and faculty in the WIU sport management program.

For the Fall issue of Western News (WIU’s quarterly alumni newspaper), Marloes’ story was featured in the College of Education and Human Services‘ section, and the piece is also featured (below) for the September installment of the ongoing “International Student Success Spotlight.”

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up as Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student in the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up at Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Stepping Up the Game: Sport Management Program Offers International Student Multinational Perspective

Marloes van Eijkelenburg has hopes of again working at the Olympic Games. In 2012, before she came to the United States to study, the graduate student in Western Illinois University’s sport management program (offered through the WIU Department of Kinesiology) worked as a facility manager at the London Games. Although she described her job at the 2012 Summer Olympics as “amazing,” van Eijkelenburg admitted the sheer magnitude and pressure of the experience left her a bit depleted.

“I was very tired after that, so I took a little vacation by myself and I traveled to Porto, Portugal, to attend the annual conference held by the International Association for Philosophy of Sport [IAPS] in September of that year,” she explained.

It was the 2012 holiday that served as the catalyst for van Eijkelenburg’s trek to the U.S.—and eventually led to the pursuit of her master’s degree in sport management at WIU.

A Significant Score
Prior to coming to the Midwest, van Eijkelenburg had earned her bachelor’s degree in sport management from The Hague University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands), as well as completed postgraduate work in sport economics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. While she wasn’t necessarily looking to come to North America to study, a chance meeting with Dr. Algerian Hart, assistant professor in kinesiology and graduate coordinator for the sport management program, and a few of his grad students, who were all attending the IASP conference that year, caused her to consider (and ultimately take) the path to WIU.

“I met Dr. Hart at a networking thing at the conference. We started talking, and I told him about working at the Olympics, as well as my undergraduate work in sport management. After hearing about my background, he thought it would be beneficial for me, and for the program, if I came to Western,” she noted. “There were six students with him, and he told me not to take his word for it, but to talk to his students so I could hear about the program from their perspectives.”

According to van Eijkelenburg, it was those conversations that convinced her to apply for the program so far away from her home in Europe.

“They really convinced me. I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow! If the students are talking so highly about this program, it must be good,'” she added.

After finishing up her studies at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, van Eijkelenburg worked another year (in 2013) and began her master’s program at WIU in August 2014. Now in her second year, she said the program continues to offer her valuable educational opportunities.

“My professors are extremely approachable here, and I really enjoy that. I am also a teaching assistant, and I have a little cubicle in same office space as my professors have, so they are accessible and easy to reach out to when I have a question or concern about my studies or my classes,” she noted.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she's met as a student in WIU's graduate sport management program.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she’s met as a student in WIU’s graduate sport management program.

Although van Eijkelenburg, who described herself as “very competitive,” had considerable knowledge about the study of sport management from her courses in Europe, she said her classes at Western offer practical application of sport management skills and philosophies.

“In Europe, the dominating sport is European football, or soccer, as it’s called here in the U.S., but since being here, I have been introduced to many of the American sports. I think it’s amazing how sports are organized are here, and in my classes, we get to discuss what’s happening in the industry here a great deal. I remember when I first got to Western, the whole story about NFL player Ray Rice’s assault case had just come out in the media, and it was my first introduction to American football. In our classes, we discussed this story from its different perspectives, such as from the fan’s point of view or from the organization’s management’s perspective. We talked about how we may have to deal with such issues in our own jobs,” she explained.

In addition to her studies and serving as a teaching assistant, van Eijkelenburg is also active in the Sport Management Association (SMA), a student organization at WIU with the mission to “expand upon students’ professional access and to provide networking opportunities and expose to increase students’ marketability.”

“Taking part in this student organization has been significant for me. I have met many friends through SMA, and we have been able to travel to different places to experience various sports venues,” van Eijkelenburg noted. “One experience, through my involvement with the SMA, included a trip to Kansas City, where I watched my first baseball game in person. Those kinds of activities have enabled me to get to know my classmates a little bit better on a personal level, and I think the opportunity to get involved like this is one of the biggest advantages of the sport management program at WIU.”

The graduate candidate has plans to finish her degree next May and has hopes of, again, working at the Summer Olympics, slated to take place next year in Rio de Janeiro. Through her experience in European sports (in addition to her undergraduate studies and work at the Olympics, she has coached field hockey), and the experience and understanding she now has of the U.S. sports industry, she said could be interested in working for an international sports organization.

“My experiences here and in Europe have been so rich, I really would like to stay international, to serve both the European and the American markets,” she said. “There’s a really high job placement rate within the program—I think everyone who graduated last May has a job right now. But it really depends on what opportunity arises.”

An up-lift-ing achievement: student sets world records in international competition

Like many college students, Sophie Simmons found herself feeling a bit restless during a break from school.

But instead of channel-surfing or sleeping in, she got involved in a new sport. And not long after that she set a world record in it.

Simmons, a senior exercise science major at WIU, recently brought home the record for her age division and weight class at the American Drug Free Powerlifting Federation (ADFPF) World Championships held in Castleblayney, Ireland. Simmons was among 300 competitors from 20 nations competing to lift the most total weight over a set of three lifts, a squat, a bench press, and a “dead lift.” The 21-year-old in the 58.5-kilos (or 123-129-pound) weight class lifted a total of 656 lbs.

“It was incredible,” she said of the experience. And as if that weren’t stunning enough, the Macomb native dropped this tidbit of information: “I’ve only been doing the sport for a little under a year.”

Find out how she got into the sport—(more after the photos)—below.


photo of Sophie Simmons in the national power lifting competition

at nationals in June 2010

photo of Sophie Simmons lifting a weight in a power lifting competition

Simmons displays her strenghts at nationals in June 2010

photo of Sophie Simmons at the World Championships

Sophie Simmons at the World Championships in November 2010

While Simmons may have mastered the art of power lifting in record time, she has been competing in athletic endeavors since childhood, starting with gymnastics at age seven, which would lead her to winning national titles in power tumbling.

“I’ve done track and pole vaulting, I love dance, cycling, swimming…I like to do everything,” she said.

Still, she had never heard of power lifting until last fall, when she was looking for motivation and happened to visit the workout room at the Salvation Army Community Center in Macomb as part of a kinesiology class. There, she met two retired WIU physical education professors, Judy Gedney and Roger Gedney, who introduced her to the sport. Judy is not only a WIU Athletic Hall of Fame coach, but also has competed in power lifting for 40 years.

“I had been doing triathlons, but triathlon season ends when it gets cold, so I started working out there,” Simmons explained. “I was like, I need something to do, something to compete in.

I’m just really competitive by nature. I love working out, but I need a goal, something to look forward to.”

Aside from her experience with weight training as an athlete, and seeing weight-lifting competitions on TV during the Olympics, she only knew the stereotype of the bulging-muscled female body builders in tiny bikinis. With her slight frame, Simmons acknowledges, “I don’t look like a power lifter. I look like a runner.”

But Roger Gedney recognized something in her, she said.

“I was a gymnast for about 10 years, and so were Roger and Judy back in the day. Gymnasts just have a natural base strength, and the movements are similar in power lifting, so I caught on to the form on my first lift. I was like, ‘I think I can do this.'”

Judy Gedney taught Simmons each of the three lifts and explained other elements of competition, including the one-rep maximum lifts in three attempts and how the totals are added up. The organization is one of the only federations that’s explicitly drug-free and determined by drug testing, she said. At their encouragement, she began training for competition in November 2009, working out at the Salvation Army center for two hours a day, three days a week from December through April. (That’s in addition to her student-worker position at Western’s Spencer Student Recreation Center as a personal trainer and group fitness teacher.) She found satisfaction in the process as her strength began to build.

“It’s a process where you can visibly see your results as you improve along the way,” she said. “I have a notebook filled with every workout I’ve done since the first day I was in there, and you can see, as your weights go up, the strength you’re attaining. It’s rewarding to see your progress.”

She stepped up to five days a week for the summer, and “this summer was the strongest I’ve ever felt,” she said.

And it wasn’t just a feeling. In June, Simmons competed in nationals held in Columbia, Mo., where she set qualifying totals to compete on the international level. Once she knew she was going to the world championships, she said, “my only goal was to do the dead lift, 140 kilos. That’s 309 pounds.”

A shoulder injury set back her training. But she kept at it.

“Roger definitely had the biggest influence on me to stick with it and keep it going,” she said. “They’re 70 and 75 years old (respectively) and they’re still both in incredible shape,” she added. “It’s inspiring.”

And at the international meet, she lifted 92.5 kilos (or 203 pounds) for the squat; 65 kilos (or 143 pounds) in the bench press; and 140 kilos (309 pounds) for the dead lift.

Despite this show of physical strength, Simmons says one of the things she’s most proud of actually happened after the competition: she traveled around Ireland on her own.

“It was the first time I’d traveled out of the country,” she said. “It was really humbling going to a different country, realizing how much I didn’t know about the world. At the meet, I had to make an effort to meet people and go out of my way to talk to the other athletes, who were from places like Ireland, England, Italy, Sweden, Poland, and Germany—I’m friends with some of them on Facebook now. I also got to spend a day in Dublin, which was so exciting. I really was proud and surprised at myself.”

So, now that she’s conquered the world (or at least the world championships in her sport), what’s next?

“For the next semester, I just want to concentrate on figuring out where I’m going to graduate school!” she laughed.

For now she is concentrating on readying her application materials for Arizona State, where she hopes to study exercise and wellness programming. She hopes  to prepare for a career in corporate/workplace health and wellness teams.

“I want to work with people and make a difference by coming up with practical ways to incorporate fitness into peoples’ lives,” she said. “I’m enthusiastic about it because fitness and exercise is my life.”

And despite her success, Simmons says she won’t be returning to power lifting training right away.

“I’m proud and happy about it, but honestly…it’s a sport you can do your whole life. I might pick it back up, but not for awhile. I do still weight-train, but I’m not sure what my next endeavor will be. If you’d told me five years ago ‘you’re going be a world champion at power lifting,’ I’d be like ‘no way.’ So who knows where I’ll be in five years.

“I like challenges,” she continued. “Everything I do is 110 percent. I don’t go halfway into something.”