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INTERNATIONAL STAGE MUST WAIT <br> AS FINA STRIDES FOR HER DEGREE

Christine Fina's rise in the racewalking world has been methodical.

Nothing too intense, nothing too rushed, nothing ahead of its time.

Perhaps that's why it's so easy for her to put off her national coming-out party for her final exams.

The 19-year-old Lancaster native finished second at the U.S. Junior National Racewalking meet last summer, making the national junior team on her first try. She was invited to join the team at the Pan-American Games this winter, but she has final exams at Buffalo State College.

So she'll pass up the opportunity.

"There's just no way I can go with my workload," said Fina, a sophomore English major. "I'm the type of student that I never want to miss a day of school, especially at the college level. At this time in my life, school is more important than racewalking. My first priority should be school and I don't intend to miss any days."

Giving up competition to concentrate on academics is part of life for Fina.

During her stellar high school career at Lancaster, where she was Section VI champion for five straight years, she never once participated in the junior national meet because it conflicted with final exams.

So this summer was her first, and last, chance to qualify for the U.S. Junior National Team, limited to athletes 19 and under. She made the team in the 10,000 meters, finishing second in a personal-best 54 minutes, 38 seconds.

"You just don't fall off the turnip truck and make the Pan-Am team," said Kevin Carriero, her former high school coach. "I told her she's got plenty of time. She's just at the very beginning of where she wants to get to. She's what I call an emerging athlete."

Racewalking has always been in her blood.

Her father, Frank, was a former long jumper who was encouraged to take up racewalking when age and overuse took a toll on his knees. Her mother, Karen, also took up the sport and the two would enter local meets, with a young Christine in tow.

"I watched my mother and father compete in the Empire State Games year after year," Fina said. "I would go to all these races and see the up-and-coming stars of racewalking and I started to emulate them and tried to imitate them by kind of walking funny right along side them. I picked it up pretty naturally."

From there, she went to Lancaster where Carriero had her racewalk during the indoor season and run during the outdoor season. While a perennial sectional champion, Fina never won a state title.

"Once I had food poisoning at the state meet and I was disqualified in 10th grade and in my senior year," Fina said. "Each state meet was quite an experience to say the least, but it made me grow much more as a person and get a better understanding of myself. I learned about my competitiveness and how to come back after a down period. That's when I became hungry for the sport."

Though she wants to become a successful international racewalker, her training has been a slow, steady process. Carriero credits her parents, who encouraged Fina and educated her on proper training, techniques and nutrition, but tempered her regimen to prevent burnout and overuse injuries.

"One of the great temptations with a good, young athlete is to think that more is better and Frank has resisted that temptation," Carriero said. "I've seen too many young, good athletes burn out and her parents have been judicious as far as Chrissy is concerned in both her training and her approach to racewalking."

Elite racewalkers are much like distance runners -- they get better as they get older, gaining more strength and endurance as they reach their late 20s and early 30s.

For Fina, gaining strength is important as her racing distances continually increase. In high school, she raced a mile (about 1,600 meters). At the junior level, races are typically 10,000 meters while the standard international, and Olympic, distance is 20,000.

Her training schedule includes working out on the treadmill Mondays and Wednesdays while going to the park Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. How long she walks depends on the race she's training for.

Racewalking may be her passion, but she still runs occasionally. While at Lancaster, she ran cross country, the 800 and 400 meters and the 4x400 relay. She was part of Buffalo State's cross country team last year.

"Every time I racewalk and see runners, I absolutely miss running," Fina said. "But when I'm running, I miss racewalking. I love them both, but racewalking is my passion."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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