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Tim Finnegan is Calvin's 'Flying Finn'
By Jeff Febus
Tim Finnegan and Harrison Jorritsma
Tim Finnegan (l.) and Harrison Jorritsma

During his lifetime, Finland native Paavo Nurmi was considered the greatest distance runner of his time. Known simply as the "Flying Finn," Nurmi collected nine gold and three silver medals at three summer Olympic Games from 1920 to 1928.

Nearly 100 years later, a new "Flying Finn" has been making his mark on the distance running circuit, although perhaps on a lesser scale. But this Flying Finn hails from New Mexico, runs for Calvin College and goes by the name of Tim Finnegan.

"He's developed into quite a runner, and we like to think of him as our own Flying Finn," said Calvin men's cross country coach Brian Diemer, a three-time U.S. Olympian in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and an avid running historian. "When he arrived at Calvin, we knew he had the potential to be a great runner."

A native of Los Alamos, N.M., Finnegan was home schooled during high school and was limited to running in local road races, a handful of club track events and the annual Foot Locker West Regional cross country meet.

"My father (Dave) was the one who encouraged me to run," Finnegan said. "I'd run with him a couple of days a week and as I got a little older, I started increasing the amount of miles I put in."

Finnegan's father also encouraged his son to seek out a strong collegiate cross country program that also fit his academic and spiritual criteria.

"I was looking for a Christian school with a strong four-year engineering program," Finnegan said. "I was also looking for a school that had a decent running program that could push me. Calvin was the only school that fit all of those criteria."

It did not take long for Finnegan to develop. As a freshman, Finnegan helped the Calvin men's cross country team capture its second national title; he placed 16th at the NCAA III Championships with a time of 25:35 to garner All-American accolades. Finnegan was one of an NCAA III record six Calvin All-Americans at the national race as the Knights posted a dominating first-place score of 48 points.

"It's pretty unusual for a freshman to run well at a men's national cross country meet, let alone be an All-American," said Al Hoekstra, who shares the men's cross county coaching duties with Diemer. "For Tim to run that well speaks to the type of talent that he has. We've had many great runners here at Calvin but Tim Finnegan certainly ranks near the top of that list."

Finnegan's performance was propelled by a fifth-place individual finish at the regional meet the week before. During the race, Finnegan slipped on the muddy course and was in danger of falling behind the lead pack. There to provide support was junior teammate Jeff Engbers, who sacrificed his own race to keep Finnegan's race alive.

"He slowed down to make sure I was OK and then ran with me the next mile and kept me going," Finnegan said. "If he didn't stop for me, there's no way I could have worked my way back up front. That was where I really learned what the Calvin men's cross country program is all about."

And what is the Calvin men's cross country program all about?

"It's about teamwork. It's about working together and supporting your teammates," Finnegan said. "It's not about running for yourself. It's about running for others."

Calvin's spiritual context also plays a part. "We run with the knowledge that we're Christians and that our running and actions reflect Jesus Christ," he said. "We know that we have been given gifts and talents as runners, and our goal is to do our best to develop those gifts and talents and give him all the glory."

And developing those gifts and talents is something that Finnegan has done, collecting All-American cross country accolades again in 2004 and 2005 as the Knights won another national championship in 2004 and then picked up a national runner-up title this past fall.

He also sparkled on the track last spring, placing sixth in the 10,000 meters and eighth in the 5,000 meters at the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, earning All-American plaques in both events.

"I struggled with injuries my first two years of track and field (at Calvin) so it was a blessing to run injury-free last spring," Finnegan said. "I still feel I have a lot to learn on the track, and I'm eager for the upcoming season." Finnegan is also eager for the 2006 cross country season after winning the Great Lakes Regional individual title and taking third at the NCAA III Championships last fall.

"My biggest goal is to help our team win another national championship," said Finnegan, who was named the MIAA's Most Valuable Runner and the Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year this past fall. "But I'd also like to go after the individual (national) title as well. I'm one of the top two returning runners from this year's meet so I think I'll be in the mix. It's hard to predict because so many variables go into a race and a season, but it's definitely something to dream about."