Running with Purpose
Tim Avery
Tim Avery

"I believe there is little this team will not achieve in the future, so long as we remain committed to the Lord and to serving one another."

Tim Avery
Cross country team member

For the Calvin men's cross country team in 2003, there were, of course, the on-the-course honors, not the least of which was the 2003 NCAA Division III National Championship.

And not just any national championship. No, Calvin, the top-ranked team in the country heading into nationals, lived up to its billing as it posted a dominating first-place team score of 48 points—the second-lowest team score in NCAA III National Championship history in men's cross country. Calvin also posted six All-American performances, the first time in NCAA Division III history that that feat had been accomplished.

Yet when the members of that title-winning Calvin men's cross country team get together 10 and 20 years down the road to remember their collegiate careers, it's likely they'll reflect upon much more than the eight-kilometer races they competed in that November day in Hanover, Indiana.

Perhaps senior Tim Avery said it best in remarks he made at a banquet marking the 2003 national championship:

The names change, places and times change, even traditions come and go, but what has driven this team to success from its first days has remained. It is our faith, the faith of coaches and families, and that of those who have come before us that has upheld this program. This team has seen mountains move. This team has witnessed athletes at their peak levels of performance who, when asked to allow a senior a last chance at racing a national meet, have willingly set aside ego, desire, and dreams to allow a teammate to run one last race! This team has seen its members lock hands and pray with arch-rivals in the midst of the national race! This team has seen a group of unknowns, leftovers, and nobodies grow into a team of champions! I believe there is little this team will not achieve in the future, so long as we remain committed to the Lord and to serving one another.

Calvin coaches Brian Diemer and Al Hoekstra have made it their mission at Calvin not only to train top-caliber cross country runners, but also to shape young men whose character is firmly rooted in the Christian faith.

These championship athletes have a purpose that goes beyond the cross country course. "Above all, God is doing a great thing with this team and with these runners," said senior Brian Paff. "We're ready to make a difference in this world."

Serving Every Nation

Mel and Myrna
Many students and mentors traditionally spend spring break serving in communities around the U.S.
More than 1,900 Calvin students participated in service learning during the 2003-2004 school year.

The 11 Calvin students and one mentor who traveled in a van to Knoxville, Tennessee, last April knew what to expect on their spring break trip: kitchen maintenance, yard work, and meaningful time with the residents of the Florence Crittenton Agency Inc.

What they didn't expect was that one of the agency's cooks would fall ill, and they would be cooking and serving dinner.

They didn't know that yard work meant clearing brambles with a scythe.

They didn't know that the time spent with the agency's residents—the time spent watching movies with the life skills group, teaching aerobics to the Barrett Hall group, and eating lunch with the young women in the mother-infant program—would be so meaningful. The residents of the Crittenton Agency struggle with serious issues: drug addiction, pregnancy, and serious behavioral and emotional problems.

"Seeing people who have gone through things I've never even imagined—people that are five years younger than me—made me think about my own life and the privileges I've had growing up," said first-year student Kelli Muilenberg, who made the trip.

This is a common reaction, said Lori Gesink, coordinator of Calvin's service-learning spring break trips. "We really believe the students gain more than the agency or the people they're serving."

The idea behind the spring break trips, which Calvin has been offering for over 20 years, is to provide an alternative to the traditional beach-bound college spring break. The trips are like case studies in how service fosters learning.

Whether sorting baby clothes in Knoxville, building a Habitat for Humanity home in urban Kansas City, Missouri; working with urban youth in East Palo Alto, California; or doing building repair on transitional housing for the homeless in New Mexico; students gain insights into other lives and other cultures.

"I think eyes are opened. I think students evaluate who they are and what their place is in life. I think they evaluate what God called them to be and do. They learn that life is not always easy," Gesink said, concluding, "I think they learn that they are really blessed."

Not that the students aren't making an impact. When Fred, the groundskeeper at the Florence Crittenton Agency, learned that the girls who were diligently scraping the encrusted grease from the kitchen appliances were from Calvin, he said, "Must be a powerful institution. They sure have helped us a lot."

The reaction doesn't surprise Gesink: "I think people love Calvin students when Calvin students go out anywhere," she said.

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