FROM READERS: International athletes deal with distance off the track

Monday, March 10, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Eight members of the Missouri track and field team belong to a unique club. They all have hometowns in countries other than the U.S.

Ji-Ho Lee is a freshman at Rock Bridge High School. His sister, Ji-Sung Lee, a seventh-grader at Gentry Middle School, is the photographer for this article.

Eight members of the Missouri track and field team belong to a unique club. They all have hometowns in countries other than the U.S.

Eric Dillon and Merid Seleshi are both distance runners from Ontario, Canada. Long jumper Kerri Furbert is from Bermuda. Three athletes come from small islands in the Caribbean. Jerrad Mason, middle distance, is from Barbados; Alex Pascal, javelin, hails from the Cayman Islands; Shinelle Proctor, high jump, calls Anguilla home. The last two Tigers have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to return home. Triple jumper Jonathan Ilori is from the United Kingdom. Katrine Haarklau, who competes in pole vault, javelin and combined events, is from Norway.

Haarklau’s hometown of Bergen, Norway, on the west coast of the country, is over 4,000 miles from the Mizzou campus. In order to reach Columbia, she has to make three flights, first to a major European airport, then to New York, Minneapolis or Atlanta, and finally to St. Louis or Kansas City. “It takes … 16 to 20 hours,” she said.

The process of coming to Mizzou was long and difficult. “It was quite confusing and complicated to get all the documents required sent over to (the) U.S.,” Haarklau said. She credits associate head coach Dan Lefever with helping her make the transition to Columbia. She also knows previous MU track and field athletes from Norway. “They did talk very warmly about this university and team, and that made me believe that Mizzou was the right place," she said.

It is also difficult being so far from home for so much of the year. “I go home four weeks during Christmastime and 10 weeks in the summer," Haarklau said. "Of course, it is challenging and sometimes painful to only see your family and friends in Norway only two times per year. But here, my team is like my family.”

Haarklau is also the only member of the team whose native language is not English. “English was the only class I did really struggle with and did hate all the way through primary school and high school,” she said. Despite the language barrier, Haarklau’s love and dedication to track and field pushed her to come to Mizzou.

“I wanted to start track when I was 6 years old because I saw it on TV, but I had to wait until I turned 10,” she recalled. Haarklau also played team handball until 17. At that point, the decision between handball and track was “the toughest decision … in my life. I will miss handball, but track and field is simply something I can’t imagine a life without.”

For Haarklau and her international teammates, it is difficult living so far away from family and friends. But they have their own family here in Columbia. “One team, one Mizzou, one family,” Haarklau said.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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