COLUMBIA — When Esther Vermue gets teased for driving three blocks to visit the grocery store, she has to laugh, too.
Yes, things are different here. But thanks to the camaraderie of her teammates it's home.
Vermue, a senior on the Missouri women's track and field team, began her track career 4,413 miles away in a town that didn’t even have a track. Now the Lewedorp, Netherlands, native is racing her way to the top of the Missouri mid-distance track squad.
She traces her success to the smooth transition she made with the help of her teammates.
In August 2009 she moved into an apartment with four members of the Missouri track team, who hit the ground running in accommodating her. One invited Vermue to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family. During spring break she joined others in a trip to Steeleville and spent a few days at a teammate’s house.
“I’ve never really felt lonely,” Vermue said. “In the beginning they drove me around and showed me everything. And when I came to track everyone was really nice to me and really helpful. That’s probably the reason I haven’t been homesick at all, because it feels like home.”
Vermue graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Holland, but she wasn’t ready to trade in her track spikes for a job. After hearing about the intercollegiate sports opportunities in America from several friends back home, she decided to give it a try.
“I wanted to see more of the world, improve my English language skills, which are very important for future jobs, and I wanted to continue focusing on track,” Vermue said. “These three wishes could come true if I would start running for a university in America.”
Vermue talked to several coaches of track programs at universities in America, but was drawn to the family feeling at Missouri.
“Sometimes you just have to go with your feeling, and Missouri just had the best feeling for me,” Vermue said.
That feeling has only been confirmed for Vermue since her arrival.
She has grown so comfortable with her teammates they're often found joking about cultural differences and language misunderstandings.
One particular subject that Vermue gets teased about is driving to the grocery store, a three-block trip. Back in the Netherlands, Vermue would ride her purple Trek racing bike everywhere. It was the preferred mode of transportation for Vermue and her friends.
Coach Rebecca Wilmes has also appreciated the differences.
“It’s funny because some things that I would take for granted in explaining she says, 'What do you mean by that?,’” Wilmes said. “One time I told them to do shifters, which just means every 50 meters they switch gears. She asked what I meant by that. I told her it’s like driving a stick shift. Start in third gear and by the end I want you in fifth. And then she understood what I meant.”
Vermue grew up at a farm in a small town called Lewedorp in southwest Holland near the border of Belgium.
When she was 17, she moved to Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands. She lived there for four years, competing for Rotterdam Track Club and studying logistics and economics.
“When I came here and saw the facilities, I was thrilled to be a member of it,” Vermue said. “I would be really happy if I got one T-shirt in a season with Rotterdam Track Club. Here they give me shoes, and they pay for my travel and tuition. I didn’t really know they would provide for me like that.”
Vermue’s typical day in Holland consisted of class until 4 p.m., a train ride home to do homework and get ready for practice, track practice from 7 to 9 p.m., then a bike ride home from practice. It wasn’t until 10 p.m. that she had time to make dinner.
Life in Missouri is less hectic, less stressful. She has more time to see friends, and more time to do dabble in her hobbies, like writing. She created a blog, written in Dutch, for her friends and family to read about her experience abroad.
Vermue competes in the 800-meter dash, the 1500-meter run and the distance relays. She was all-conference in the distance medley during the indoor season and has shown improvement in the 1500-meter.
“She’s a go-to girl. We know that she’ll get the job done, and she’ll do it right,” Wilmes said. “She brings a positive attitude and is a really good athlete. We definitely wish we had more than just this one year with her.”