Moving from Hermanus, South Africa to America wasn’t big enough of a challenge for men’s track sophomore Marcel van Eeden. After spending his life in another continent, Eeden arrived in Middlesex County, N.J. for his sophomore year of high school ready to take on a new life, overcoming cultural differences and a plethora of injuries to become a two-sport student-athlete.
After years of playing rugby, the applied economics and management major joined his high school football team. But van Eeden couldn’t get halfway through the season before dislocating his left hip. Despite the injury, however, the sprinter was still eager to get back on the field. In order to get back in shape, van Eeden joined the track team — even though he had no prior experience. It turned out to be his best sport.
“I did it [joined the track team] so I could get back in shape for football again,” van Eeden said. “My dad didn’t want me to do football, but after I joined the team I realized that I had a talent in track.”
Van Eeden quickly developed into one of the best runners in the nation. He qualified for the indoor and outdoor nationals the following year and the indoors in his senior year — also playing strong safety for his school, West Morris Mendham High School. Despite how fast it came, all of his success didn’t come easy; in his senior year van Eeden pulled a tendon in his leg, denying him a chance to qualify for the outdoor nationals in the 400 meters.
Despite his injury history, Cornell’s track team recruited van Eeden as a sprinter. He also walked onto the men’s varsity football team to play special teams, a true testament to his athletic ability. Competing in the 400 meter and 4×400 meter relay, van Eeden was on the path to a well-accomplished freshman campaign. Unfortunately, in the indoor Heps meet, he pulled his hamstring, denying his indoor Heps title chances.
“After pulling my hamstring, I started rehab … but then I pulled it again during our meet in Tennessee.” Van Eeden said.
Despite being inactive in the both Heps meets, indoor and outdoor, van Eeden earned a Heps championship ring for qualifying, a ring that he wears every day.
“I keep it because it reminds me that I am here for a reason, when I see this I realize my purpose,” van Eeden said. “It helps me realize what I need to do to win.”
Just like he had done many times in his career, the sprinter fought back from the last year’s injuries to experience success in his sophomore season.
“This year, Marcel is a much more self-aware athlete, and as result he is performing significantly better than last year,” said men’s track and field coach Nathan Taylor.
Just this past weekend, van Eeden set a personal record running a 47.7 in the 400 meters at the IC4A meet.
“A large part of being good in track is the ability to listen to your body and take care of all the details that go into keeping it healthy. Marcel has been fantastic at that this year, last year he was kind of like a bull in a china shop,” Taylor said.
This year, van Eeden has used more discipline alongside his fiery competitiveness to actually stay healthy, which has been a rarity even since high school.
“He has been incredibly positive, there have been times when I have had to hold him back,” Taylor said. “He wants to do everything in his power to be good.”