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Friday, February 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Mckyla Van der Westhuizen’s last name is long, her philosophy isn’t

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Photo courtesy Rice Athletics

By Riya Misra     4/18/23 11:26pm

There are 280 McDonald’s stores in Africa. 230 of them are in South Africa, according to freshman javelin thrower Mckyla Van der Westhuizen.

“There’s like two places you can go in Africa,” Van der Westhuizen said. “South Africa, for one, because it’s like the America of Africa … Mauritius is also a great place.”

Van der Westhuizen hails from this McDonald’s hub, the “America of Africa,” specifically, Centurion, South Africa.



“I’m from Centurion, but nobody knows what that is, so I usually say Pretoria,” Van der Westhuizen said. “And people also don’t know what that is. So I just ask them, ‘Do you know Cape Town?’ They say yes and I say, ‘Not there.’” 

At the Victor Lopez Classic earlier this year, Van der Westhuizen claimed first place overall with her 56.68 meter throw — the fifth best mark in the country this season. Despite her performance, Van der Westhuizen isn’t under the impression that she’s had a particularly strong season so far.

“I’ve been a bit clunky,” Van der Westhuizen said. “Some of the conditions have not always been the best at my meets. I don’t really like to blame the conditions because I don’t like to focus on that, but sometimes it is unavoidable … I threw up in the car the day before I competed [at Texas Relays], so that was not the best way to impact your performance.”

Van der Westhuizen said her javelin career has similarly clunky origins, unexpectedly born out of a deeply unathletic childhood.

“It all started in grade four, when I was really unathletic and absolutely useless as a child. Useless. I did not do anything. I didn’t touch sports,” Van der Westhuizen said. “Grade four, I was doing hurdles, actually. I wasn’t really good but I could hurdle the hurdles properly … The next year came around, and other girls figured out their technique. They also got faster, and I just didn’t. So I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to lose any more.’”

After some failed attempts bouncing around tennis, shot put and discus, Van der Westhuizen finally settled on javelin after beating out the rest of her peers’ throws. Stemming from a desire to win — or rather, to simply not lose – Van der Westhuizen said her javelin skills hovered around mediocre-level before switching coaches a few years into the sport.

“I excelled entirely in grade nine. At the end of the [year], I threw my first 40 meters … It was really far. I took the meter record, I got two trophies and I was just so happy. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna do this forever,” Van der Westhuizen said. “I just wanted to see the world, go overseas, especially if I could. I never knew javelin could throw me into another country.”

After being tossed 9,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, Van der Westhuizen said she’s adapted to the culture changes quite comfortably, albeit with a few exceptions.

“Back home, we drive on the left side, so I walk on the left side of any pathway. You guys drive on the right side of the road, so you walk on the right side,” Van der Westhuizen said. “Every time I come to a person, I immediately go left and they go right, so I always end up walking into so many people. It’s such an awkward thing.”

Despite her self-proclaimed lack of coordination, Van der Westhuizen’s clumsiness is firmly rooted in the day-to-day, her javelin skills unaffected by any sidewalk stumbles. Looking ahead to the rest of her time at Rice, Van der Westhuizen said she hopes to continue refining her technique and podium at nationals — perhaps even with her sights set on the Paris Olympics in the future.

“I love the sport and I just want to be better,” Van der Westhuizen said. “[There’s] not much to it. I don’t have some long-ass philosophy.”



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