Thursday, May 14, 2009


This week’s Left Field guest is somewhat of a celebrity. No, it’s not just because he graduated from North in ’97 and experienced the likes of four-minute passing time and Bowling club. He’s a superhero of sorts. By vocation he’s the mild mannered high school teacher at an alternative high school and by avocation he’s the lycra-wearing speedster, Finkelstein, who not only bests skinny-wheeled roadies but also thrashes fat-tired cyclists as demonstrated with his record-setting first place finish at the Adrian Fat Tire championships. We welcome Tim Finkel to Left Field

Let’s do a quick chronological recap of the educational life that has been and is Tim Finkel: You graduated from St. Paul, Sterling Heights, continued your Mustang mascot ways until graduating from Lutheran North in ’97, headed to another horse-related school, Western Michigan and graduated in (2002) with a degree in elementary education. Eschewing horses you graduated from Oakland University, home of the Grizzlies, with a Masters degree in special education with an endorsement in emotional as well as autism impairment and currently teach at a self-contained high school for students with emotional impairments. When you walked across that high school graduation stage, did you have any idea this is where you would be today? To be honest with you, when I walked across the stage for my high school diploma the only thing I could think was running over to get my ears pierced as a testament to my rebellion against my oppression of tucked in shirts, khakis, and hair that does not pass the collar line. I did in fact go and get my ears pierced that day. That was followed by a few years of drifting aimlessly through college with no real defined direction. It really wasn’t until about three years of wasted tuition that I got my act together. Ultimately, I am very happy and content with where I am today and despite some struggles along the roads I choose, all of my experiences have made me who I am today.

You race bikes? Yes. However, I should specify that I simply am a “cyclist” first and foremost before I am a “racer”. In all reality, if I didn’t race bikes I would probably ride even more because I wouldn’t really have to worry about structured recovery. Cycling has proven to be my most effective catalyst for self-improvement in my life. If I didn’t ride, my healthy well-being would take quite a blow.
Racing has simply become a natural bi-product/evolution of my basic love of the act of riding a bicycle. It is my outlet for anxiety, pent up energy, frustration, and my everyday obstacles. Cycling is definitely not for everyone, but it IS for me.
My girlfriend will testify, if I don’t get a ride in certain days, I am miserable to be around.
I have been blessed to of landed some great sponsorship for this season racing for Gary Fisher’s Professional Factory MTB Team: The 29er Crew. In addition, my roots are planted firmly with the Wolverine Sports Club on the road racing side of things. Both organizations have supported me very generously with finances and with mental support, coaching and camaraderie. These folks are a second family to me.

I’ve tried so hard to convince the youngsters I teach every day that wearing lycra while scooting around on two wheels, is actually admirable. I’ve failed. I am still mocked by the anti-lycra crowd. Any suggestions? Aside from flaunting the name of that American pop-icon from Texas, this task can often be an uphill battle. However, I’ve found that it’s a process of acclamation for youngsters to obtain a propensity for stretchy pants. We mock what we don’t understand. At first glance, the site of a grown man in a second skin adjourned with bright colors and sponsors is confusing and somewhat frightening. However, I’ve noticed that through subtle plugs here and there (i.e. showing a photo of a euro-racer on the podium with two beautiful women kissing him) that the students have come to accept it as the standard issue uniform to a legitimate sport. Let’s be honest, football pants look ridiculous, as do baseball. However, we’ve grown up with them and accept them as All-American. But it still doesn’t change the fact that they look ridiculous. I believe through calculated acclamation, there is hope with our youth to accept and maybe even embrace the lycra-clad community.

You are a yo-yo champion? Yes. Well, to be specific, the 1998 Michigan Yo-Yo State Champion. Amongst many of my lucrative occupational endeavors was that of professional yo-yo demonstrating. I worked for several different companies and actually took a semester off of undergraduate college to yo-yo full time. That is a whole separate story in and of itself.
Ironically, I made more money that year than I did my first year of teaching.

You author two different blogs, The Finkelstein and your Gary Fisher 29er Crew, actively tweet on Twitter and consistently leave comments on various URLs in Blog Nation. Has quality writing and insightful commentary always been one of your strengths? Definitely not. I used to hate reading/writing. However, sometime in college, after being required to write so many papers in my education program, I seemed to become at least proficient at it. To be honest, I am quite insecure about my writing and always am surprised people want to read and actually enjoy my thoughts. I simply started writing for therapeutic purposes and one thing lead to another. I have received emails from people conveying that they feel my writing is inspirational and gives them drive. That makes me really happy, and gives me motivation to continue doing what I do.
Currently, I’m toying with the notion of a book…cycling specific of course.

What’s it like to race a mountain bike for 24 straight hours…and win?
Chris Etough, 6-time 24hr World Champion said, “There is something that happens in a 24 hour race, there is no hiding in a 24hr race, at one point you come face to face with your soul”.
He was right. It’s tough to really put into words what coming face to face with your soul is like. Even now, the feeling of elation from standing on that podium makes me tear up. I cried for about ten minutes after I crossed the finish line.
I could ramble on about this experience for pages so for the detailed report, check out:
This season, my sights are set very high as I have qualified and am registered to compete in the 24hr Solo MTB World Championships in Alberta at the Canmore Nordic Centre on July 25th. I must admit, the aspiration of winning a race of this caliber is a bit of a pipe dream, but then again so was last year's race.

When do you…you know…jettison excess liquids and such during the race?
The art of disposing of liquid waste during a race is really contingent on what type of race it is. If it is a fast Crit race on the road, forget about it, you are either holding it, having “an accident” or DNFing (did not finish). In a long road race, there is actually a pee lane. This is a lane at the back of the pack designated for peeing while continuing to roll on. It is only effectively utilized during race lulls, if attacks are going on at the moment, you are holding it. Just as training your fitness to race is imperative, so is practicing this peeing from the bike technique…you do not want a mess come race day. In a long MTB race, most of the time you can just pull over to the side of the trail and go to town. However, there is no irony in the fact that the line to a stinky porta-potty at a race is always extremely long just before the gun. No one wants to have to ever pee during a race.

What’s a favorite Bible verse?
I would say that changes depending on what I’m going through at the moment.
After recently losing my oldest brother whom I loved and miss dearly, I have found myself finding solace and comfort in Isaiah 40:31which is his confirmation verse.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
Over Easter break this past year, I had the words “Wings of Eagles” with a chainring and the number 24 tattooed on my left rib cage close to my heart. I wanted a daily reminder that God is a constant source of strength 24 hours a day and a way to keep my brother close to my heart at all times. It’s my most valued piece of art I own.

There are mornings when two of our three copy machines are down and the other won’t staple, the office-coffee is burned beyond drinkability and kids are whining about wanting a snow day. It’s a struggle to endure. I’m sure that as a teacher at an alternative high school these problems must seem a bit trivial. What is one of the most difficult experiences you’ve had as a teacher that would make my colleagues truly appreciate life at LHN even on a bad day? For anonymity purposes I probably shouldn’t get into any specific stories. I think the biggest challenge working in my environment is having to wear so many more hats than that of “normal” educators. On a daily basis I am expected to perform as a psychologist, psychiatrist, med-distributing nurse, surrogate parent, behavioral analysis expert, special education teacher, gifted student educator, marriage consoler, Medicaid logger, secretary, disciplinarian, Physics teacher, Biology teacher, motivational speaker, nutritionist, personal hygiene coach, etc. the list goes on.
Let me just say this: While at Lutheran North I was once caught cheating in Mrs. Kuschman’s class and punished. I was cheating because I wanted to get a good grade on a quiz. I should have been punished; there are no shortcuts in life. However, you have to recognize I at least had the motivation to want to do well even if it meant taking a shortcut. If I were to ever catch one of my students cheating I’m not sure what I would do first: 1. punish them or 2. Sing praises that they actually had shown initiative to want to do well.
Many of our students come to school without their everyday basic needs met (i.e. food, shelter, love, etc.). According to Maslow, their pyramids are very empty. It is an extreme challenge to try and teach about cellular respiration or the electromagnetic spectrum to a child who may have been evicted from their home the night before or up all night because he/she was listening to their drunken father argue and strike their mother. This is the reality of much of our population. I always tell my students, “I’m not going to pretend I have any idea what it’s like to of gone through what you have, I don’t know where you’ve been, but I do know were you need to go and can help you get there.”

The Life of Finkel is a new pilot for NBC. What actor plays you and what’s the premise for the show? I would like to think my life is interesting/entertaining enough to simply go for the textbook cliché reality theme wherein I would simply play myself. My life definitely does not have a shortage of characters in it that much of the populace would find comedy in. Although I’m not sure it would last much more than one season due to monotony. It seems these days I don’t do much more than rest, ride, recover, ride some more and occasionally work. Perhaps it could be a multi-series documentary as we explore my preparation along with roadblocks in the way of preparing for this year’s Worlds. July 25th could be the big finale.

Recently there has been a rash of food fights at the Mustang Café. Well, by rash I mean two camera-documented cases. It amazes me that youngsters, despite the ever-probing eye of the security cameras, still loft food in the air. Do you have any quality food-fight memories of lunches well-spent and well-thrown? Miniature carrots, when broken in half and squeezed with your pointer finger and thumb will build up so much static friction the potential energy will eventually be released as mechanical kinetic energy and shoot the carrot projectile extremely far and surprisingly accurate while still remaining inconspicuous. I learned this my junior year and regularly practiced in North’s Cafeteria, the mall food court, and Meijer. I was never caught and became extremely accurate with this practice. You didn’t hear it from me kids.

Recently a local 9th grade girls’ basketball coach named all his inbound plays after legendary American cyclists: Armstrong, Hincappie and Finkel. The latter was the only play that never tallied points for the Fillies. Any explanation? Perhaps because when measured against the accomplishments of Armstrong and Hincappie, my accomplishments are merely marginal. Perhaps, the play is the only one that has never used performance enhancing drugs…whoops, did I just say that? Or maybe, the play needs some time to mature like a fine cheese and it is just waiting for it’s day. Or like a fine cheese, maybe it just stinks.

I’ve tried to relay the infamous OUB/VM (Oakland University Bike/Van Mishap) to my students without glorifying recklessness. Sure, I had only one working brake, I wasn’t familiar with the OU campus terrain and drafting a van seemed like a good idea…until I hit it. What went wrong that fateful day? Cycling is all about attention to detail. The faster you go, the more you are required to be attentive. My coach always tells me that it is my responsibility to protect my front wheel no matter what happens in a race. You did not protect your front wheel that day. A plus that did come out of that scenario is a constant LOL moment for me whenever I look back on it…thanks!

Pop Flies:
Carbon Fiber or Steel? Carbon Fiber
Dry erase boards or Smart boards? Smart boards
Twitter or Flttr? M nt sr hw t nswr tht.
I-phone or curly-corded land line? All hail Steve Jobs and his uncanny ability to tell us what we want/need.
Mr. Himmler or Mrs. Ebert? Mr. Himmler. I look up to anyone who has the patience to whittle.
Ram’s Horn or Gus’ Coney Island in The Clem? Perhaps we should really consult Kevin Bacon on that one.
Breaking Away or Quicksilver? Hands down, Breaking Away
Kickball or dodgeball? Kickball….goooooooooooo Bayside!
Caribou or Starbucks? Ideally homebrew in a French Press, but if I have to choose…Starbucks. Caribou recently increased their prices. A large is now over $2…that is wrong.

One last note, my brother Don was an avid reader of your blog. He particularly enjoyed reading your Left Field interviews. He always used to ask me, “Tim, when are you going to get your interview?” I would like to say it has been an honor to sit down for this interview, my brother would have been very proud.


Jordan Buuck said...

This was by far the most fascinating Left Field yet.

BTW, nice switch up on the color scheme between the questions and answers from the long questions to pop flies. That caught me off guard for a second.

JBrandt said...

But eventually you did field it cleanly, right? I don't want to write E-8 in the scorebook. Enjoy the summer, Jordan.

Jordan Buuck said...

Oh yes, I got it...but an error to left field would be E-7 ;) Enjoy your summer too!

Anonymous said...

This was fun to read! As one of Tim's fellow LHN grads (and therefore another of your former students, Mr. Brandt), I can assure your readers that Tim is as enjoyable and interesting in person as he is in Left Field. Talk about a man who is constantly changing and growing for the better. He is an inspiration! Keep your eyes on him. As my dog Randy Jackson would say, "We got a hot one, America!"

JBrandt said...

Are you really going to leave me in the dark concerning your identity? Do you happen to be a master barbecue chef?

Anonymous said...

Ha! No, I am not a master BBQ chef, but now you have me wondering which one of my classmates I need to start hanging out with more this summer! Mr. Brandt, this is Sarah Cunningham. You still go down as my favorite teacher (tied with Mr. Kuschman at Trinity). Hope all is well, and I believe I can deduce from you blog that it is. I'm glad to read about it!

JBrandt said...

Sarah Cunningham! Good to hear from you. Are you still teaching?

Anonymous said...

Why, yes I am still teaching! I currently teach 8th grade Language Arts but will switch to 7th grade next year. I'm way out in Novi but live in Fraser. I think you have inspired a new goal with one of your older posts that I ran across... ride my bike at least once during my career to work and back. 8-) When are you finished with school? Hope you have a great remainder of the year.

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