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Finan fights obstacles on, off the course

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Eric Finan capped off his UC cross country career as a Big East champion and finished 25th at the national championship race this week as an All-American. His road to the top was filled with bumps and vans. 

By Chris Gundrum

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI -- Eric Finan will never forget his first year at UC.

Whenever he looks in the mirror, the cross country runner sees scars that are a constant reminder of what was one of the most unfortunate years a freshman could have.

However, the marks on his face aren't just a negative reminder. They also serve as a symbol of the ability to overcome whatever obstacles may be in the way.

After suffering a stress fracture before the start of the season, Finan was forced to cross train on a bike in order to stay in shape. One afternoon he planned to swim laps in his friend's pool after training on his bike.

He wouldn't make it into their driveway.

"It's a blind turn because of these big bushes they have at the end of their driveway," Finan said. "And as I turned the corner they were backing out with their van and so I turned the corner and there they were and we collided."

Although, they didn't just collide. Finan's head shattered the van's rear window.  

"My whole face just kind of opened up which is why I have these scars on my face now," Finan said, pointing to noticeable scars on his chin. "And it was really pretty unfortunate because all this is happening, I'm thinking, 'Man, I'm a failure. I got a stress fracture, I can't run. Now I got to cross train, I can't even cross train now because I just busted my face and now I'm in the hospital.'"

After the accident and after finally being cleared to run again, Finan's woes continued. He suffered two more stress fractures before the end of the year and was unable run again until late that summer.

"At that point I didn't run a single step for 20 weeks," said Finan.

Having to overcome so many obstacles would make anyone question whether or not it's worth it to continue running.

Finan sure did.

"There were days when I was just like, 'You know what, God, if this is your plan I can be done with this. I can go do something else,'" said Finan.

Finan didn't walk away. He turned the other direction and ran. And ran. And ran. The senior's final cross country race came at the NCAA Championship on Monday. He finished 25th overall which is the highest any UC runner placed since Ron Stapleton finished 23rd in 1972.

He was named an All-American one year after finishing 60th in the same race.

Although he didn't win, his performance, if anything, is an example of the kind of progress Finan has made throughout his career.

Finan looks back and sums his career up with one word: Perseverance.

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"We encounter issues in our lives," said Finan. "But we have the opportunity to respond to that and respond in two ways -- either favorably or unfavorably. So really I think it's a story of the human ability to overcome challenges."

Coach Bill Schnier knows that is a rare trait.

"Except for Eric's freshman year, it's been nothing but up," Schnier said. "Now, there might be little blips but nothing that would really amount to anything. So I think that is really something that sets Eric apart is that somehow he's found a way to be steadily improving, that's extremely rare in any sport with any athlete."

But it should be no surprise to anyone that his improvement was constantly headed in the positive direction. Finan's running schedule makes any workout fanatic's three-mile daily run look like a walk in the park.

"In the morning I'll get up and do a five-mile run and then in the afternoons I'll do anywhere from 10 to 13 or so," Finan said. "And then three days a week in the mornings I'm doing a strength routine. So the average week ends up being, during base training phase, about 110 miles per week plus all of the strengthening stuff with weights and all that."

After looking back at everything he's been through Finan knows he couldn't have done it without the support of his family.

"Honestly, I can't speak enough in honor of their support," Finan said of his parents. "They've gone to every Big East cross country meet the last four years when I was not very good to now being a Big East champion. So they've always been there and they've always been incredibly supportive."

Although Finan's carrer at UC will soon be behind him, he doesn't plan to stop running. This is an Olympic year and Finan hopes to make his presence known at the trials in June

And if making the Olympic team seems like and unbelievable challenge, it should. Only the best of the best athletes compete there.

But you don't have to remind Finan that it's possible to overcome the odds. All he has to do is look in the mirror.

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