To celebrate International Education Week, WRUF is publishing profiles of UF student-athletes all week.
Alida van Daalen arrived at the University of Florida in January 2023, ready for a new chapter of her life.
Within the next six months, she became an SEC champion, earned multiple awards and etched her name in the UF record books.
A Long Way From Home
Van Daalen’s decision to move 4,500 miles away from home was extremely difficult and risky, so much so that she almost decided to stay in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
“Coach Eric Werskey reached out to me and was like, ‘Are you interested in coming to the U.S. to study here and train here?’” van Daalen said, “But I was never really interested.”
Yet, Coach Werskey remained determined to get van Daalen to the United States, sending her online messages all throughout 2022.
“She was always very kind, very nice,” Werskey said, “but she’s like, ‘No thank you. I’m not interested.’”
Undeterred by van Daalen’s repeated rejections, Werskey eventually decided to message her mother, Jacqueline Goormachtigh, who also happened to be a former discus thrower and van Daalen’s coach. He set up a phone call to discuss the opportunity and had the chance to speak to van Daalen toward the end of the call.
“She wasn’t necessarily sure about her transition from the Netherlands or if she wanted to leave,” Werskey said. “After speaking with her mother, we became pretty comfortable with each other and they had asked their peers over in Europe like, ‘Who is this guy?’, and things checked out, thankfully.”
Van Daalen eventually took a visit to Gainesville in late 2022 and was immediately sold on becoming a Gator.
“It is very far from home, but it felt like I was ready for it,” van Daalen said. “I have a really good connection with the coaches here, so that made it easier for me, that I knew I’m in good hands. And the teammates are awesome, so it feels like I just am in my second family.”
Even though van Daalen has found a second family here, she still struggled throughout her first semester. English is not her first language, which can sometimes make her academics more difficult. But the biggest challenge was being so far away from home because she couldn’t celebrate her accomplishments with her mother.
“It has been hard because my mom was my coach back home,” van Daalen said, “so I always shared everything, like every achievement, with her, and this time it’s with Coach Werskey. But it almost feels like the same, it’s just a different person. And what I’ve heard from her is that she can enjoy it even more to see how my teamwork is with Coach Eric Werskey.”
Coach Werskey lauded her ability to recognize when she is struggling and not shying away from seeking help. She takes advantage of the mental health resources available to student-athletes at UF to talk through anything that is weighing down on her, which helped her through her first year.
“Alida is just very competitive, and we obviously love that on the track and field side of things,” Werskey said, “but she takes a lot of pride in her time management and her class work and her studies, as well. She’s not afraid to go like, ‘OK, I’m struggling,’ or ‘I need help, so I’m going to go and get it done.’ And so, she’s a very go-getter type mindset and the competitive spirit, I think, helps bring that out for her.”
Despite her struggles, van Daalen managed to put together one of the most impressive freshman seasons by any student-athlete ever at UF. She was both the indoor and outdoor SEC champion in shot put, earned three All-American honors and was named SEC women’s freshman field athlete of the year for the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Her outdoor discus throw of 59.96 meters (196 feet, 9 inches) at the NCAA Outdoor Championships set a new record in Gators history (breaking a record she had set earlier in the season with a throw of 57.79 meters). She also broke the Gators’ indoor shot-put record with a toss of 18.66 meters (61 feet, 2.75 inches) at the SEC Indoor Championships. She currently sits in fourth for the longest outdoor shot-put toss in Gators history with a distance of 18.2 meters (59 feet, 8.5 inches).
She was ecstatic and grateful about these accomplishments in just her first year.
“I want to thank coach Eric Werskey for believing in me when I didn’t,” van Daalen wrote on Instagram. “I have grown a lot at the University of Florida as an athlete, but mostly as a person! Best choice I have ever made!”
Van Daalen is not the first international athlete to move to the United States and become an NCAA student-athlete, nor will she be the last. And she offered some words of advice for other international student-athletes contemplating the move.
“It is maybe a scary step to take, but it will be worth it. Just enjoy the journey,” van Daalen said. “You will enjoy your time here a lot and you can only find out if you come on a visit.”
Carter, Scott. “Gators Newcomer Van Daalen an Instant Hit.” Florida Gators, Florida Gators, 5 Apr. 2023, floridagators.com/news/2023/4/3/womens-track-and-field-alida-van-daalen-column–florida-relays-040323.aspx.
Florida Gators. “Alida van Daalen.” Florida Gators, floridagators.com/sports/track-and-field/roster/alida-van-daalen/16543. Accessed 8 Oct. 2023.
Florida Gators. “Eric Werskey.” Florida Gators, floridagators.com/sports/track-and-field/roster/coaches/eric-werskey/1791. Accessed 8 Oct. 2023.
Goormachtigh, Jacqueline [jacqueline_goormachti]. van Daalen photographed with her mother. Instagram, 29 Jun. 2018,
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Hirsh, Ryan, and Alida Van Daalen. “Interview with Alida van Daalen.” 3 Oct. 2023.
Hirsh, Ryan, and Eric Werskey. “Interview with Coach Eric Werskey.” 4 Oct. 2023.
Van Daalen, Alida [alidavdaalen]. van Daalen photographed with Coach Werskey. Instagram, 25 Feb. 2023,
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Van Daalen, Alida [alidavdaalen]. van Daalen photographed with medals. Instagram, 16 Jul. 2023,
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