By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
Success comes so easily for some great athletes that they take it for granted.
West Bloomfield senior Erin Finn has experienced enough adversity in her running career that she appreciates each and every accomplishment.
Finn’s freshman year in cross country and track was cut short by stress fractures. So one of the greatest distance stars ever to come out of Michigan remained under wraps until 10th grade, when she placed fourth at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 meet in cross country and second in the 3,200-meter run in track.
She went on to win the MHSAA cross country title as a junior in 2011 before setting the all-class/division record for with her time of 10:17.86 in the 2012 Track Finals.
Finn entered her senior year brimming with confidence, hoping to enhance her reputation as one of the state’s all-time greats.
Instead, she endured one frustrating performance after another. The worst part was nobody could understand why Finn was regressing.
Finally, one month before the state cross country meet, Finn was diagnosed with an iron deficiency that was correctable primarily through supplements but also by getting more meat in her diet.
“My parents cook meat really poorly,” she said. “Really, like leather. I started doing some more of the cooking.”
She got stronger in the final weeks of the season, peaking with a personal-best 17:07.9 that dominated the Division 1 Final meet by 26.6 seconds. It was the fourth-best time ever by a girl in an MHSAA final since Michigan International Speedway began hosting in 1996.
“My freshman year, I got stress fractures,” recalled Finn, who receives a Second Half High 5 this week. “I kind of went crazy, because I was a little too underweight from running too much. I
wouldn't take that back. I wouldn't take this back. I've learned so much. God always has a plan. It’s just sometimes I’m too dumb to figure it out.”
Finn sustained her only loss of the year to two-time Division 2 champion Julia Bos of Grand Rapids Christian, by 15 seconds at the Spartan Invitational on Sept. 14. That’s when Finn began to wonder what was wrong with her.
“I ended up getting a fever the next day,” Finn said. “At first I thought it was over-hydration. Then I thought it was being sick. Then I had worse and worse races. I didn't train this hard this summer to get slower and slower. I’m doing everything right. I’m finally getting to bed early this year.”
When her problem was pinpointed in early October, Finn established a mindset that nothing mattered until MIS. After failing to break 18 minutes in three straight races before the diagnosis, Finn ran 17:47.1 in her final conference meet and 17:50.8 in the Regional before running her personal best Saturday.
“I’m definitely getting back there,” Finn said. “God has blessed me. I don’t think I ever prayed so much before a race.”
Finn joked that her goal prior to her senior year was to make people ask, “Who is Megan Goethals?”
“Just kidding,” Finn said. “That will never happen.”
Goethals is considered the greatest distance runner Michigan has produced, having run the only sub-17 time by a girl in an MHSAA Final as a senior at Rochester in 2009.
Goethals, in fact, is one of Finn’s idols, as is former Waterford Mott star Shannon Osika. Goethals now runs at the University of Washington, while Osika is a future teammate of Finn’s at the University of Michigan. She competed against both at one time or another over the last four seasons.
And back in the pack at MIS are runners who undoubtedly look up to Erin Finn.
These are the glory days of girls distance running in Michigan. Finn’s name is in the conversation with the very best. Of the top 15 times ever run at MIS, 14 have been run during the last five years by girls who have helped the state make an impact at the national level.
Finn shattered the national high school indoor record in the 5,000 meters last March with a time of 16:19.69 in the New Balance Nationals Indoor in New York.
She took second in the national Foot Locker cross country meet last year after placing seventh as a sophomore.
“I hope to follow in Megan’s footsteps by placing so well in nationals, both in high school and in college,” Finn said. “There are so many other wonderful runners. I’m so excited to run at Michigan next year. I was at Big Tens. I was never so excited to be at a cross country race. It was so much fun to see the girls who are going to be your teammates perform so well.”
In her final cross country meet for West Bloomfield, Finn let speedster Hannah Meier of Grosse Pointe South set the early pace before taking the lead one kilometer in and never looking back.
After reaching the finish line with a second straight MHSAA title, Finn was greeted by at least a half dozen reporters.
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “I never felt so cool before with all these cameras and stuff.”
The way Finn is running, she’d better get used to it.
PHOTO: West Bloomfield's Erin Finn crosses the finish line first during Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)