By John Riemer
Athletic Communciations Intern

WILMINGTON, North Carolina – Confronting a rigorous course load in the UNCW International Masters of Business Administration (IMBA) program, former UNCW track and field 800-meter champion Bob Vanderham still continues to compete as a professional.

Vanderham, 23, was born in Den Bosch, The Netherlands, and returned to his native land after graduation in December of 2012 to join a Dutch Professional Running team known as TeamDistanceRunners (TDR).

The UNCW 800m record holder is now enrolled in the Cameron School of Business’s IMBA program, which requires students to do an accelerated fall semester in Wilmington and the spring semester internationally.

Vanderham was raised overseas until his family moved to Maryland in 2001 and then on to Cary, N.C. After taking up the sport in high school, the late-bloomer improved dramatically and capped his collegiate career in 2012 by repeating as 800-meter champion at the Colonial Athletic Association Track and Field Championships.

“Bob saw tremendous growth and improvement in his four years at UNCW and it opened doors for him that I am sure he had not even thought about before,” said Layne Schwier, Assistant Track and Field Coach and Vanderham’s former distance coach.

“TDR is made up of a couple of 400m athletes to a group of marathon runners with the core group consisting of 1500m-10k guys,” said Vanderham.

He returned to Wilmington last August to do the first part of the IMBA program. He continued to work out on the track with a new training plan from TDR. Vanderham enjoyed being able to run track year-round, which he believes will lead to a successful track season.

“The main difference between the college and professional training is that I do a lot more speed-work in the fall to prepare myself for the indoor season instead of training for cross country,” said Vanderham. “My runs have gotten shorter since I am solely training for the 800 now. The plan is to be able to run a faster 400 and keep my same endurance level which should lead to faster 800’s.”

The second semester of the IMBA program sent Vanderham to Bremen University of Applied Sciences in Germany. He continued his training and started working with his team again in preparation for the Dutch Indoor National Championships. As decorated as Vanderham was at UNCW, he never got the opportunity to compete in a national championship.

“For a track athlete to have an opportunity to run in his country’s national championship is something special and I am sure Bob feels the same,” said Schwier.

“It was the first time I've ever competed in a championship indoor meet. It was a lot of fun. They really try to make a show out of it to build the suspense for the spectators,” said Vanderham.

The meet may have been Vanderham’s debut on the national stage, but he responded well. 

Vanderham went about his normal race preparations, researching the other competitors in his event and developing a race strategy. It was especially important because of the quality of the field that included Thijmen Kupers, a fellow Dutchmen with much more international experience then Vanderham and a faster personal best 800m time. 

“Like always, I did my research on my main competition to see who I was up against. I already knew who the heavy favorite was since Kupers won the outdoor championship and had already qualified for the world indoor championships,” said Vanderham.

The race was formatted similar to many other national meets. The Dutch Indoor National Championship had three preliminary 800m heats. The first and second place finisher from each heat automatically made the finals. The two next best times from all the 800m competitors completed the field of eight runners for the finals. Vanderham was not a top finisher in his heat, but had one of the top times of the whole field to reach the finals.

Vanderham felt confident going into the final day of competition. He had spent the summer competing for TDR, racing in a European track circuit against many of the competitors.

“My plan for the final was to stay behind Kupers and then try to catch him at the end for the win. Things did not go as planned. Kupers started in the back, which was a little confusing,” recalled Vanderham.

“I stayed in fourth place for the first half of the race biding my time. Kupers ended up passing everyone on the third lap, along with another runner behind him. I could not match their move so I got stuck in fifth going into the last lap. With 100m to go I made my move and accelerated and managed to pass two guys right before the finish line to get third. I was very happy to get a bronze medal,” said Vanderham

The medal in the 800m was his third medal in international competition. After racing the 800m, Vanderham joined his teammates from TDR to win the silver later in the meet in the 4x400m relay. Vanderham also captured a bronze at the Outdoor Dutch National Championships in the summer of 2013.

The former Seahawk great, a regular on the Dean’s List and two-time academic honoree by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), will continue competing internationally this spring and early summer. Vanderham’s ultimate goal is to have the chance to represent The Netherlands at the Olympics. 

Schwier believes Vanderham has the potential to climb to the sport’s pinnacle of success.

“Hopefully, he is able to continue with the sport at a high level for the next couple of years and chase the ultimate dream of going to the Olympics in Rio in 2016,” Schwier said. “Bob will need to improve more to make the Olympic standard, but seeing how far he’s come from high school shows that it’s certainly possible.”