by Greg Chandler
When Nathan Schloff looked at potential career fields, the Hope College cross country runner didn't have to look far to find what he wanted to do.
Schloff's grandfather, Frederick Vaas, is a retired mechanical engineer for General Motors and the holder of several U.S. patents.
"He designed the modern valve lifter (a device for an internal combustion engine)," Schloff said. "He designed the parts that go to the engine, then designed the machine to make those parts."
Schloff talked extensively with his grandfather about the field of mechanical engineering and decided that's what he wanted to study at Hope.
While Schloff considers his grandfather a role model for his future career plans, the senior from Holland, Michigan (Holland Christian HS) is serving as a role model for his teammates on the Flying Dutchmen's cross country team this season.
He stepped up his training regimen over the summer to prepare for this fall, putting in about 900 miles over the course of the summer.
"He is living proof that hard work yields results, and helps to create a training culture where teammates encourage each other to improve daily," head coach Mark Northuis said. "He is truly the right leader at the right time for this program."
Schloff and his teammates are next scheduled to race on Saturday's Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships hosted by Kalamazoo College. Start time is 11 a.m. at Eastern Hills Golf Course.
Schloff scheduled his training runs around his internship at GM's Wyoming, Michigan plant, where he worked on efforts to improve production efficiency at the plant.
"We would analyze which machines were running slower than what they were designed for," Schloff said, adding that they also looked at methods for improving the efficiency of those machines and found ways to record a significant increase in efficiency.
It was the second internship for Schloff at the GM Wyoming facility. He would welcome an opportunity to work there full-time after finishing his degree at Hope next spring, but is also open to other opportunities closer to Holland, possibly as a product design engineer.
"I know there's a lot of good companies around here," he said.
Meanwhile, Schloff is looking to improve both his own individual performance as well as Hope's team performance after last season's fourth-place finish in the MIAA. That, he believes, starts with changing the culture and the work ethic around the team. He likes what he has seen this season.
"So far this season, the team is looking a lot better in terms of confidence as well as focus and work ethic," Schloff said. "We're trying to keep that momentum going for the rest of the season."
Schloff is off to a strong start to his senior year.
"He ran our fastest start of the season time trial ever, and continues to improve daily," Northuis said.
Schloff has been Hope's top runner at three meets: the Wheaton College (Illinois) Invitational, the Greater Louisville Classic, and the Pre-National 8K hosted by Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He clocked a personal-best run of 26:04.1 at Louisville.
He has set a high bar for himself for this season.
"It's always been a dream of mine to qualify for nationals, and I think this year, with the summer training I put in, it's possible I could turn it into reality," Schloff said. "I'd like to be a good example for the team and show everybody what Hope cross country can do this year."