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Senior leads by stepping aside
By Jeff Febus
Brian Paff
Brian Paff (National City, Calif.)

On nearly every team, an unsung hero can be found. For the Calvin men’s cross country team this fall, that person was senior Brian Paff. A native of the San Diego suburb of National City, Calif., Paff was a fifth-year senior this fall on the Calvin cross country team that captured a national championship.

Paff arrived at Calvin in time for the 1999 cross country season but was forced to red-shirt after suffering heat exhaustion at a race hosted by Wisconsin-Parkside University. “I was fortunate that day because they had medical equipment available right away,” said Paff. “The year before, three of our runners had gone down because of the heat at the same race. The race organizers had a medical tent there when I ran, which probably saved me from even bigger problems. I don’t even remember collapsing.”

Paff recovered to run the following spring on the Calvin track and field team, and the ensuing fall he was able to rejoin the Calvin cross country team. Although not a member of the top seven, Paff was still able to soak in Calvin’s memorable run to its first national championship, as the Knights posted a first place score of 65 points at the NCAA III Championship.

“I was just in awe of what our guys did that year, particularly the upperclassmen,” said Paff. “It was such a special group of guys. We had great leadership, and to be a part of it all was definitely special.”

Gradually, Paff began moving into a leadership position of his own. The following year, he flirted with moving into Calvin’s top seven, as the Knights finished second in the nation. As a fourth-year junior last fall, he moved into Calvin’s top seven, finishing seventh individually at the MIAA Championships and landing a spot on the All-MIAA first team. He later earned a spot on the Great Lakes All-Region team and then finished 78th individually at the national meet, helping the Knights to national runner-up honors.

“We weren’t expected to do as well as we did,” said Paff of Calvin’s 2002 national runner-up finish. “The thing that the 2000 national championship team did for us was to open a door to dream that we could do it again. Once you’ve won it, you want to win it again.”

During the off-season, Paff helped his teammates focus on the goal of winning a national title. “We set up an accountability group where each member of the team was matched up with another teammate,” said Paff. “They’d hold each other accountable as far as their summer training was concerned, and they’d also pray for each other. The thing that the Calvin cross country team is first and foremost about is glorifying God. Our first goal was to glorify God through our athletic talents, and the challenge was to bring out those talents.”

As the season progressed, the talents of several runners emerged as the Knights gained momentum and eventually captured the national title, with a team score of 48 points, including six All-American performances.

Heading into the regional and then national meet, Paff was not among Calvin’s top seven; instead, he served as an alternate as Calvin’s eighth man. “Our season was not about me becoming an All-American,” said Paff. “It was about our team being that best that it could be to glorify God. We had other guys step up their performances this year, and even though that meant that I wasn’t in the top seven, it meant that I had done everything I could to help make them and the rest of our team better.”

According to Calvin men’s cross country coach, Brian Diemer, Paff’s selfless attitude was indeed significant in the direction the team took throughout the season. “Brian Paff has been the glue behind this team sticking together. He always had this team in his heart,” said Diemer. “He organized Bible studies, encouraged his teammates and never let anyone give up hope. He has the kind of talent where he could have been an All-American this year, but he willingly sacrificed his spot for someone else. I can’t say enough about that young man. He was a team leader in every way possible this year.” Now that his collegiate running career has come to a close, Paff is looking to lead in a different way, as he intends to enter the field of education as an elementary school teacher. “I’ve always loved working with kids, and I feel that is what God is calling me to do,” said Paff, who carries an English concentration along with his education major. “I want to be able to shape young children into Christlike individuals.”

Related Links

Men's Cross Country Team Captures NCAA Division III National Championship

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