|Senior runner gains valuable insights
By Brent Smith
During his time at Calvin, Jon Gries found what he was looking for from his sport — and much more. A native of King of Prussia, Pa., Gries attended Upper Myrian High School. While there, Gries became a respected runner, gaining all-area honors three years and all-state honors during his final two.
All along, though, he felt something was lacking; he and his fellow runners were running for different reasons. “We had different philosophies,” Gries said. “They raced to win while I wanted to race for something more.”
Calvin helped him discover that “something.”
“Calvin had just won nationals the year I was looking [for a college], and I could tell that the coaching staff and communal team environment would help me to grow as a runner in the most substantial ways,” he said.
An All-MIAA selection for the past three years, all-region runner for two seasons and a two-time All-American, Gries has acquired a number of distinguished honors. Yet, he insists that his most important achievements also may seem to be the most insubstantial.
His sophomore year, the team placed second nationally. “At first, it was hard to deal with,” Gries said. “We work hard to be the best.” He learned important lessons from this experience, though. “The coaches have a slogan, that we should have an ‘attitude of gratitude.' I learned to be content with that, but also how to work even harder.”
Now Gries regards this second-place finish as one of his most cherished accomplishments because of what he learned from it.
Hand in hand with his athletic growth over the years has been his spiritual growth. A fundamental turning point in his spirituality occurred when he came to Calvin. “The coaching staff and the other players on the team have become a great community to me,” he said.
Through this community, Gries has learned some important virtues. “The coaches model the type of humility and selflessness that I can only hope to model through my life,” Gries said. “[Coach] Brian [Diemer] was an Olympic athlete, but you would never know it. His greatest desire is not to win, but to see his runners' dreams come true … whatever they may be.”
Other lessons have been equally valuable. Gries posted some of the worst times on the team his freshman year. “It was the first time I had considered quitting,” he said. “Yet, the coaches and other runners supported me throughout it.”
The following summer Gries trained hard, and when he came back the next fall, he became one of the top four runners on the team.
“It helped to build my determination and drew me closer to the other players,” he said. During that year he was supported in particular by Jeff Engbers, a runner who had a similar freshman season.
“Since then, I have had the opportunity to help freshmen who were having similar seasons,” Gries said. “It's all one big circle, but the important thing is having the support when you need it.”
A senior education major, Gries is excited about teaching and hoping to coach one day. First he plans to teach abroad, work for the Peace Corps or join a professional running team.
Gries summed up his experiences running and in his faith: “When you run a race, it's tough and it hurts throughout, but when you finish, the feeling and the reward is great. Faith is like that. I know that if someone keeps serving God through those difficult times, God will reward him in the end.”
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