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Calvin Sports News
  Cross country-a lesson in life
By Phil de Haan
 

Calvin senior Scott Westhouse was "looking forward to the best season of his life" when he was stopped in his tracks by mononucleosis. Fellow senior Kent Frens also had big plans for 1999, but found those plans waylaid by an achy achilles heel. How the duo dealt with their setbacks, however, says as much about them as their athletic exploits (which, by the way, are considerable).

Westhouse and Frens were co-captains on this year's men's cross country team, the only two seniors on the squad. All summer long they worked and trained and dreamed about the 1999 season. In 1998 the Knights had finished second in the nation in NCAA Division III, the best-ever performance in school or MIAA history. Westhouse had been a NCAA III All-American, while Frens, an All-American in 1997, just missed an All-America berth in 1998.

Both student-athletes had high expectations for 1999. And then came September.

Westhouse was the first to go down. He thought he had allergies. His glands had begun to swell and his eyes were irritated. He went to the doctor. The verdict? Mono.

A season-ending diagnosis in most cases. Said Westhouse: "I've seen guys who have had mono for months. I thought I was done. And then I gave it up. I thought 'this is not in my hands, it's in God's. I stayed positive, I slept, ate right and tried to do everything I could to get better."

Meanwhile Frens felt on top of his game. His spring track and field season had been a wash-out when he suffered a partial tear of his achilles tendon. But over the summer he got healthy. And he got hungry. He wanted a big senior season. But at Calvin's first race he aggravated the injury. His season was put on hold. And suddenly Calvin was without its only seniors and its co-captains to boot.

Both athletes drew comfort from a Bible verse coaches Brian Diemer and Al Hoekstra had sent the pair in the summer.

"Proverbs 21, verse 31," said Westhouse. "Brian sent us it in the summer and it meant a lot to me as I trained. It meant even more once I got mono. It said: 'The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.' We both thought we had learned that and then both of us were taken out in the first two weeks."

They were down, said Frens, but not out.

Both athletes committed themselves to their rehab efforts - some cross training, some pool workouts and, eventually, a return to running. Westhouse at one point was running a mile a day and taking about nine minutes to do so, a far cry from the five miles at a little over five minutes per mile demanded by a collegiate cross country race.

And they both stayed true to their studies. After being diagnosed with mono Westhouse essentially slept for two weeks, but, he said with a wan smile, "I didn't miss any classes." Frens too continued to hit the books while working his way back into shape. Both athletes are Calvin's Dean's List students with grade point averages above 3.5. A GTE Academic All-American last year, Westhouse is pre-med and hopes to head to medical school next year in preparation for a career in medical missions. Frens is a philosophy and religion major who plans to go on to Seminary next year.

And somehow both athletes returned to racing. After two weeks of no progress Frens woke up one morning free of the sharp, debilitating pain that had hampered his stride. Westhouse added miles to his initial one-mile regimen and began getting back into competitive cross country shape.

Frens made his 1999 debut first, running on October 9 at the prestigious UW-Oshkosh Invitational. All he did in his return was finish as Calvin's fifth man, sparking the Knights to a first-place finish against a field that included the top three teams in NCAA III.

Just two weeks later it was Westhouse making his comeback official at the Olivet Nazarene Invitational. In his return he finished as Calvin's sixth man (Frens was fifth) as the Knights finished second in a competitive field. The seniors were back!

At the MIAAs Frens was third for Calvin and seventh overall, while Westhouse was sixth for Calvin and 13th overall. Neither athlete was able to earn All-MIAA honors, having missed the first two league meets of the year. But, for both, just competing at the MIAA Meet was a significant honor. Two weeks later, at the Great Lakes regional meet, the duo took another huge step forward. Frens and Westhouse both finished in the top 20 to earn All-Regional honors. They ran as Calvin's fifth and sixth man respectively and crossed the finish line just eight seconds apart.

And then came Nationals. Perhaps one of the best traveled sports cliches is "we're just glad to be here." Yet as Westhouse and Frens stepped off the bus in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on November 18, knowing that in just two days they would compete at the NCAA III Nationals to conclude their Calvin careers, it's not hard to imagine their sense of not only relief, but also disbelief. Glad to be there? Indeed. The race in some ways had already been run. Nationals were a bonus.

But what a bonus. On a glorious fall day the Calvin College men ran to a fourth-place national finish, marking back-to-back seasons in the top four. Westhouse was fourth man for Calvin and 59th overall, while Frens, ironically, battled pain in his achilles for much of the race, but gutted his way to the finish.

Just days before the race Frens reflected on the 1999 season. His conclusion?

"No matter what happens our season has been an utter success. Westhouse and I know that 'the team got it.' We've come together as runners and we've come together in a spiritual way. We bonded with each other around the Lord. When we step off that bus (at Nationals) we're all about business, but we also realize cross country is not the most important thing in our lives."

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