Half A World From Home

UAA’s international track athletes find success in Anchorage

Joshua Wagner and Mette Van Der Meer are friends and teammates competing for the University of Alaska Anchorage’s track and field team. Besides being athletes these two share two other things in common. They both hold a school record and are both from halfway around the world from their home.

Joshua Wagner is a junior, and he moved to Alaska three years ago from a small town called Niederahr in western Germany. Niederahr is a very rural community where everyone knows everyone. Wagner loved being outdoors playing; he’d spend his time playing soccer and riding his bike around the town with his two best friends. However, one sport found its way into his heart— track and field. Wagner began running at just 4 years old and quickly fell in love with it. Wagner would run and run and run as much as he could.

Joshua Wagner

At 8 he was old enough to start competing, that’s when the sport opened up his world. “I was all right, I was a late bloomer and didn’t really get to be big and fast until I was 16 years old, but it didn’t tarnish my love for the sport,” Wagner said. “Once I hit my growth spurt I began putting on muscle and started getting faster. Before I knew it I was on the national stage and was lucky enough to place in the top 10 in Germany for the 110 meter hurdles. I’ll never forget that feeling, that’s when I knew I wanted to compete for as long as I could.” Wagner has been able to do just that. After finishing high school in Germany he packed his bags and flew halfway around the world and moved to Anchorage with two goals. “I wanted to come here, get a degree in Dietetics and to compete.”

Wagner quickly established himself as one of the fastest guys on the team. Unfortunately, his freshman season ended with a “Did Not Finish” at the conference meet as he tripped going over a hurdle. Shortly after, the outdoor season was canceled due to the pandemic and we did not get to see Wagner redeem himself.

During Wagner’s sophomore year there were many rumors and many feared that they would not have a season at all due to Covid. Fortunately, the team was able to compete in an outdoor season. After a year of only training and not competing Wagner was eager to begin competing again. He quickly reestablished himself as one of the best hurdlers in the conference, breaking the school 110 meter hurdles record with a run of 14.62, and consistently placing within the top 3 of meets. He would go on to break his own school record that season and finished second at the conference meet.

Fast forward to the current season where Wagner started the season with a jaw-dropping performance. In the first meet of the season, and his first time running the 60 meter hurdles since his unfortunate fall during his freshman season. Wagner ran an 8.09 breaking the school record and also placing his name third all-time on the conference record board. “After breaking the record I was excited but was not very satisfied. I knew I ran nothing close to a perfect race. I know that I’ll get a chance to do better and better my time further.”

Mette Van der Meer

Mette Van der Meer shares a similar story to Wagner. She just recently moved to Alaska to start her freshman year of college. She, like Wagner, also moved halfway around the world from a small farm town called Droten located in the Netherlands. With a very similar upbringing, you could find Van der Meer outside with her friends enjoying the outdoors as they would play games, bike, and run.

Van der Meer’s first sport was swimming, but at eight years old she began running and competing in track and field. She began as a runner and hurdler but during her early to mid teen years, she began competing in the pole vault. She quickly fell in love; “Pole vault was very different from anything else. It took a lot of skill and patience but the reward of getting over the bar was something I fell in love with. ” As Van der Meer continued to improve she realized that she wanted to continue to compete after high school. “In the Netherlands competing in sports at a university or even just after high school was very uncommon. Most people just stopped and started working. Only the best of the best truly got to continue that path.” Van der Meer said.

Knowing how difficult and rare it would be to compete in the Netherlands, Van der Meer began her recruiting process. “The process was scary and overwhelming. I had coaches from all over reaching out and asking me to come compete after one conversation. ” Van der Meer said, “However, I remember getting that email from UAA. At first, I had no idea about a team here, but after some research and talking with the coaches I knew this was the school for me.”

Just like that Van der Meer packed her bags and moved halfway around the world to Anchorage. The UAA team has not really had much of a pole vault program in the past so it became Van der Meer’s mission to establish herself as the foundation for future generations. With her first meet of the season Van der Meer cleared 3.56 meters or 11 feet and 8 inches to set the UAA record.

“I remember clearing the bar to set the record, I was excited it was the best I had ever done. I walked off the mat and Coach Ray was standing waiting for me with a smile on his face. ‘Congrats, Mette, you are officially a school record holder. ’ he said.” With it being Van der Meer’s freshman year she plans to continue along this path and continually break her own record as many times as possible.

Like Wagner, she did not just choose UAA for the athletic program, she fell in love with the academic focus the school has. Although she loves Alaska and the time she’s spent here, her dream is to earn her bachelors in psychology and move back to the Netherlands and work as a forensics psychologist. “Alaska is amazing and reminds me so much of home but my dream is to work and help the people I grew up around.”

As Wagner and Van der Meer continue their careers here at UAA they are showing us that no dream is too big. Two kids who both started off in small villages in Europe, are now breaking records halfway around the world.

2022 GNAC Indoor Track and Field Championships – Day Two – Photo by Loren Orr Photography LLC/LorrenOrr.com