Back And Better Than Ever: Korhonen Making The Most Of His 5th Year At UMass
May 8, 2006
He's beaming. He's ecstatic. He's living in the moment.
UMass middle distance runner and former Gardner High standout Jon Korhonen isn't feeling a whole lot of burden these days. After all, he's a fifth-year senior. With a light course load, great off-campus apartment, even greater grade-point average (3.95), and a cool job as a campus tour guide, it's hard to complain.
He's back in Amherst for another tour, courtesy of the indoor track and field program, which was cut in 2002, but restored the following year. Korhonen didn't lose that year of eligibility, which ultimately brought him back.
He had his reasons, too -- affable coach Ken O'Brien ("a distance guru", he says), faster times to attempt, new things to try. But, at first, the results were marginal. He never ran cross country at UMass due to his involvement with the Minuteman Marching Band -- he served as drum major for three years -- but decided to change things this past season and spurned the band for rugged terrain.
"Being a drum major was my true passion [in band], but you can't go on to be a professional drum major anywhere," he says. "Whereas running is nice, because I know I'm going to keep running."
Plus, he had been haggled by teammates about skipping cross country. But life is all about trying new things.
One problem: Korhonen came down with mononucleosis last August, which sidelined him for a chunk of the fall and prevented him from posting good times until late in the season. But when the indoor season came around, he found his stride and eventually saw his decision to come back pay off in the record books.
He holds numerous records at Gardner High, but none are as sweet as the one he set for the Minutemen on Feb. 11 while running the mile at Boston University's Valentine Invitational. Staying in the middle of the pack for most of the race, he came around with a half-mile to go to nearly overtake winner Matt Lincoln from Penn State, ultimately placing second.
He finished with a time of 4:04.26, which is impressive when you take into account that prior to the race he had never done better than a 4:08 -- and was seeded at 4:06. He also broke Paul Beaulieu's 25-year-old school record in the process, justifying his return and seeing the fruits of his athletic labor.
"It was pure bliss, in knowing that no matter what happens afterward I finally got that under my belt," he says of setting the record that he'd been eyeing all season. "Now I can leave here knowing that I did it, and I can move on, as opposed to being (ticked) off that I came back for a whole year and didn't do anything. That was a big hurdle to get over."
Having done four years of outdoor track, his eligibility is finally up, which begs the question: where to go from here?
A communications major who earned ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors for his efforts in the classroom, Korhonen is taking what he calls an "expanded" undergraduate course load. But like seemingly everyone else ready to walk down the aisle in cap and gown, he's still stuck on what to do for employment.
He'll have a little time to contemplate the matter in Australia this summer, where he will be engaged in a four-week student volunteer program -- two of which involves over 120 hours in community service. To fund the trip, he sent out hundreds of letters to family members, friends, local businesses, former co-workers and even one to Chancellor John Lombardi (who in return sent him a $120 check). The results? He ended up collecting over $4,000.
But after his trip, employment is anyone's guess -- though he does have an offer to work in the office of UMass vice chancellor of student affairs Michael Gargano. Korhonen has also pondered coaching, a public speaking-oriented job or -- given his breakthrough this year -- running competitively for a few more years.
One thing is for sure: Amherst is nice, but Korhonen concedes he might need a break from Western Massachusetts and a bit of a change of scenery, even after returning from Australia.
That isn't to be taken out of context, however. Korhonen can see himself living in New England later in life. He loves the area and its scenic terrain.
"I love this place. It's a quintessential college town," he says. "It's a great place for running, too. I have friends at BC and BU, and everyone looks at those schools as athletic powerhouses, but having to run down Mass Ave. everyday and through the streets of Boston? That's not what runners like to do, so this is a great area for that."
And if you're looking to possibly hook him up with some employment, Korhonen wants you to know he's far from picky.
"At this point, I'm open to anything," he says. "I've recognized that this is the time of my life to do whatever it is I want to do. I have nothing tying me down."
Because for now, he's living in the moment.
By Brendan Hall, Worcester Telegram & Gazette