By Chris Lotsbom
(12-June) --The last time Michigan's Erin Finn competed at a New Balance Nationals meeting, America's high school athletics championships, she finished a heartbreaking second, one-one hundredth of a second behind girls 5000m champion Wesley Frazier. At March's New Balance Nationals Indoors in New York City, Finn came across the line with arms above her head, thinking she had won the national crown and set a new national high school record.
In actuality, it was Frazier who out-leaned the University of Michigan-bound Finn. Devastated and too exhausted to stand without assistance, Finn fell to the track and needed medical assistance for the better half of 30 minutes, suffering from a virus and bacterial sinus infection that had bugged her during race week.
In fewer than 48 hours, Finn will take to the track in Greensboro, N.C., at New Balance Nationals Outdoors, hoping to cap off her high school career with podium finishes in Friday's 5000m and Saturday's two-mile.
If you thought the runner-up finish three months ago discouraged and displeased the usually smiling Finn, you would initially be correct. Only to an extent, though.
"It started off as a lot of feeling sorry for myself, which is not something I like to admit," Finn, now a graduate of West Bloomfield High School, told Race Results Weekly at the adidas Grand Prix in New York City last month. "I was in a bad mood for a while. I just didn't understand why."
In the days following the New Balance Nationals Indoors race, Finn would play the finish over and over in her mind, asking a number of questions. 'Why was I sick race week?' came up the most.
Questions stemming from her cross country season even entered her mind. During the fall of 2012, Finn was a favorite to make a run for the Foot Locker Cross Country national title. Yet, the 18-year-old wasn't able to qualify for the final in San Diego; dealing with a stomach flu at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional Championships, Finn wound up finishing 12th in 17:46, two spots and six seconds out of the final qualifying position.
Following the event, Finn posted an emotional message to her followers on Facebook: "I did not qualify for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships today. Considering I had hoped to win the national meet, my previous statement is very hard to swallow. However, no matter how much we prepare, how hard we work, or how smart we train, things happen. I caught the stomach flu."
"I never usually get sick. But this year, I've gotten sick at least two times before major races. For someone who doesn't usually get sick, it's really weird to get sick and have it coincide like that," said Finn, trying to explain how hard dealing with the disappointment was.
Snake-bitten as it may seem, Finn never let her string of bad luck get her down 100%. Though she wasn't racing at the Foot Locker National Championships, Finn did end up having a successful cross country season. In February, she finished second among junior women at the USA National Cross Country Championships, earning a ticket to Poland and the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. In the Junior Women's 5.658 kilometer race --two weeks following her second place finish at New Balance Nationals-- Finn placed 34th in 20:03.
"I began to think, maybe [if I wasn't sick] I wouldn't have qualified for Worlds. If I had gone to Foot Locker, maybe I wouldn't have had that motivation and been like, 'cross country is over,'" she said. "As time went by I began to think this isn't that bad. It just made me want it more."
Any lingering "what if" questions ended on Monday, April 15, the day of the 117th Boston Marathon. After seeing video and pictures of two bombs devastating the finishing stretch on Boylston Street, Finn put her situation into perspective. News reports of bystanders losing limbs and three deaths struck a chord inside her small frame. Not only that, but the thought of thousands of marathoners stopped only a mile from the finish resonated with her.
"When Boston hit, I was just like, 'oh my goodness,'" she said. "All these people, half of them just wanted to finish and they weren't even going for a time. People couldn't even finish, and here I am pouting about having one of my greatest races ever being sick. So it really just put everything into perspective. The whole thing was really hard but I hope to come out a better person and better athlete out of it."
Since the Boston Marathon, Finn has run very well. On May 25, at the adidas Grand Prix, Finn ran a personal best of 4:46.29 for the mile in cold and rainy conditions. Though she finished ninth, the performance was strong considering Finn's strengths are the longer distances-- two miles and up.
"I'm a long distance runner, so if I can do that and feel pretty good after it, I'm confident going into Nationals," she said. A week later, she won the Michigan High School Division I state title at 3200m and placed third in the 1600m.
In both the New Balance Nationals Outdoors 5000m and two mile races, Finn is set to rematch with Frazier, the only girl to beat her at the Indoor national championship meet three months ago. These will likely be her final races as a high school athlete.
"I'm very excited," said Finn after her race in New York City. "I'm just going to run my hardest and see what happens."