|Family tradition translates to college cross country career
By Kelli Ponstein
Christiansen, a vital member on Calvin’s cross country team, has been honored as an All-American athlete—four times, as a matter of fact—but his success didn’t begin at the collegiate level.
He began running at the early age of two with his seven brothers and sisters under the guidance of his father, a former runner for North Central College. The family ran road races together—Christiansen’s first was at age three. As the tradition continued throughout the years, Christiansen recalls the enjoyment that running brought to the family.
“We would always run together and try and go after the national records for the road races. This was our motivation,” said Christiansen.
Jake, Christiansen’s younger brother and a sophomore at Calvin, also remembers their running experiences.
“It was a long time ago because I have been running for about 17 years, but I remember running through parks a lot,” said Jake. “More specifically, I remember running in a Jamestown run, which was a 15 miles to another town and back.”
After a move to Greenville, Pa., the competition increased and Christiansen’s father presented them with their greatest task yet: a marathon.
“In 1995, my dad asked us if any of the older children wanted to try a marathon,” said Christiansen. “One of my older sisters said she did. I thought she was crazy, but I couldn’t let her have that on me, so I decided I would have to do it as well.”
Christiansen set the U.S. record for an eight-year-old marathon runner, clocking in at 3:37:26. He recalls that he hasn’t run that far since.
But Christiansen’s elementary years served as a mere starting line for his running career. As he advanced, Christiansen learned new strategies and techniques that enhanced his running skills. When it came time for college, he knew exactly what he was in search of.
“I was looking for a Christian college,” said Christiansen. I was impressed with Calvin’s academics, and looking at their cross country team, there were a lot of guys that were the same speed as me.
“I didn’t want to come to a school being the fastest at the beginning.” According to the Pennsylvania native, his main focus rested on attending a school that would allow him to grow in his faith.
“I trusted God and wanted to go where he was leading me,” said Christiansen. “I never did actually visit anywhere, as I didn’t want to feel obligated to go anywhere and have that hinder my listening to where He wanted me to go.”
Since arriving in Grand Rapids, Christiansen has progressed from one of the nation’s top freshman to a bona fide conference title-winner. With this comes a sense of accomplishment.
Christiansen became the 14th individual in NCAA III men’s cross country history to claim All-American honors for four straight years. He also was named the Great Lakes Regional Men’s Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive season, as well as MIAA Most Valuable Runner. Two weeks earlier, he acquired individual honors in leading Calvin to its 22nd consecutive MIAA title.
“[The coaches] have been awesome, especially Coach Diemer,” said Christiansen. “He has become a very good friend of mine and has brought me through a lot more than just running.”
As he concludes his running career at Calvin, Christiansen still looks to the future. Because running has been a part of his life for 20 years, he can’t envision a future without it. For someone who feels guilty about not running for a couple of days, he concedes that he doesn’t plan on quitting after he graduates in May.
As for his educational future, Christiansen is aware of his calling to teach. “Whether this calling is leading me to teach in schools or teach in some other setting,” he said, “I am keeping my doors open.”
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