Senior Pole Vaulter Nick Van Deraa Assists The Gulf Coast Region
Dec. 8, 2008
By Cara Corradino, Marquette Media Relations
MILWAUKEE -- The average college student struggles to find the time to accomplish all they want during their college career. During his four years at Marquette, Nick Van Deraa, a senior on the Marquette track and field team, has proven that he is anything but average.
A civil engineering major, co-op participant, exceptional athlete and an active member of one of Marquette's largest service clubs, Van Deraa is the embodiment of Marquette's core ideals: excellence, faith, leadership and service.
Van Deraa became involved with the MARDI GRAS (Making a Real Difference in the Gulf Region and Surrounding Areas) organization after reading about a trip in a Marquette University News Brief to aid the relief effort of the Gulf Coast region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In December of 2006, Van Deraa traveled to New Orleans as part of the club's first large group trip, joining over 100 fellow Marquette students in an expedition aimed to impact the relief effort.
"I really didn't know what I was getting into," Van Deraa said. "I went there by myself. I got thrown into a group and met a lot of people that I normally would not have met."
What Van Deraa encountered was not what he expected. It was a life changing experience. One that turned out to be more than merely an opportunity to serve others; the trip gave him an opportunity to reflect on his own values and beliefs.
"I was able to talk a lot about things I really hadn't considered before: faith, service, and government," Van Deraa explained. "Every time I go back there I'm impacted and I want to go back again and again and again"
Van Deraa has, in fact, gone back again and again. This October, Van Deraa returned to New Orleans for his third service trip and will be leading his own group over the winter holiday.
During his first trip to New Orleans, Van Deraa was responsible for gutting abandoned houses in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the areas hit hardest by Katrina. The task allowed him to see first hand the aftermath of the most destructive hurricane ever to strike the United States.
"The houses were as someone just got up and left," said Van Deraa, as he described the wreckage. "It was shocking because people lived here. It's two years later and stuff was still just lying there molding."
Van Deraa's future career in civil engineering also influenced his decision to travel to New Orleans. The damage that was caused by the flawed design of the levies and the physical nature of the labor piqued his interest.
"Part of the reason I went down there the first time was because I was really interested to see what had happened and why the levy breached. I wanted some answers," he said.
During his subsequent trips to New Orleans, Van Deraa tackled many tasks such as dry walling, landscaping, and fence mending.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina will cost the Gulf States up to $125 billion to repair, and although it is over three years since the storm hit, there is still much in the ways of repairs to be done.
"The majority of the people in the United States think New Orleans is back and running," said Van Deraa. "They see Bourbon Street and the Superdome and everybody's happy. The location that we were in is the Lower Ninth Ward. It's a predominately lower class area and that's where the barge broke through the levy. It pretty much wiped out the area.
"I was back there about a month ago and slowly but surely a couple of houses are being built and some families are coming back. Unfortunately, a lot of the people don't have the means to come back at all. It's sad and more needs to be done. The little part we do here at Marquette is definitely helping out."
Van Deraa's service did not go unnoticed by teammates. Last year, current teammate Kyle Saginus and former teammate Cody Miles joined Van Deraa on the service mission. The experience allowed the three to see each other in a different light.
"I actually learned a lot about my teammates being in a different setting," said Van Deraa. "We had the opportunity to discuss issues that don't come up in the locker room after practice."
With his fourth trip fast approaching, Van Deraa is prepared to make an impact on both the members of his group and the Ninth Ward community.
"During my first couple of experiences I kind of took a back seat to my leader and they told me what to do," Nick asserted. "Now I'm ready to be a leader."
Van Deraa is also busy priming himself to be a leader in another facet of his life. He was recently chosen as one of the captains of the Marquette track and field squad by his fellow teammates.
"Nick is just a natural leader," said Head Coach Bert Rogers. "He is a guy that all the guys look up to. He is a fifth-year senior and he has been around the block and works hard. He walks the walk and talks the talk. It was a no-brainer for captains' voting."
Van Deraa spoke humbly about the honor bestowed upon him by his teammates but wasted no time outlining his expectations for the team this season.
"I'm looking forward to taking a leadership role and really trying to change the attitudes here," he said. "I want people to want to get better everyday. If we really work on technique and other small things, in the long run they will make a difference."
Although leadership seems to come naturally to the charismatic Van Deraa, he has been greatly impacted by Golden Eagle leaders that have come before him, especially Marquette track and field alumnus Ryan Seebruck, from whom he draws his inspiration as a captain.
"As a senior sizing up the freshman during the first week of practice, I knew immediately that Nick was a competitor and a natural leader," Seebruck explained. "His passion and optimism were infectious and his insatiable desire to succeed made him incapable of complacency, which is exactly the type of athlete you want as a teammate. Even as a freshman Nick demonstrated the primary trait of any successful leader: he made those around him better simply by being himself."
This season Van Deraa is also working closely with another former Marquette track and field leader, Zach Pawlowski, a current assistant coach for the squad. Pawlowski, a 2007 graduate and holder of the school pole vault record, is aiding Van Deraa in his quest to break his current indoor record, 15-7.75, and become a serious contender in the BIG EAST.
Coach Rogers sees the potential for Van Deraa in the pole vault.
"He has been working hard. He has been on the cusp of really having a breakout year and I believe that is going to happen for him this season," Rogers predicted. "He scored both indoors and outdoors in the BIG EAST and he is pretty close to getting into that next echelon of vaulters."
With the season just underway, Van Deraa has one goal athletically and that is to put together the type of season he knows he is capable of, not only for himself, but for his teammates.
"I'm definitely not satisfied," He confessed. "I hope I will put that season together so (I can) show the other athletes that if they do what coach says, strength condition hard, train hard, if they take care of your body, that they will get better. Hopefully the chips fall into place this year."