Ben Finkelstein: Pushing the boundaries of FHC sports


For many, our most formative times are when we are young and wide eyed, still seeing the many wondrous parts of our world and discovering what interests us or makes us happy. We look up to those around us and aspire to be like those who fascinate us. For the young Ben Finkelstein, he discovered the very two sports that would impact his life, both positively and negatively, for years to come. One has already become an integral part of his time at FHC, and the other is only beginning to leave its mark on the school.

The little Ben Finkelstein, at the mere age of three, strapped on his tiny ski boots for the very first time at the base of Keystone Mountain getting ready for his first day of ski school. His family owns a condo there and took trips down there during Christmas break every year. It was time for Ben to find his ski legs and learn how to glide down the bluebird hills of Colorado.

Ben’s admiration for skiing followed him all the way until high school, when he joined the ski team and is now a team captain as a junior. Ben has been training to become a varsity racer since he was little and even joined the Cannonsburg race team when he was seven. But nothing could have prepared him for what happened in December of his Sophomore year.

With the bitter Michigan wind in his face, he glided down the hill at Nub’s Nob with a look of pure bliss. The snow was icy that day and provided an extra boost of speed to his skis. It was a beautifully sunny day without a cloud in the sky, and the air seemed to swallow any noise with its icy touch. Everything was so bright and peaceful. It could not have been a better day to get ready for the season. Within seconds, however, Ben’s entire world turned upside down.

In an instant, the tips of Ben’s skis locked into the icy surface of the snow as he tried to turn. His body jerked violently in the air, and he was whipped to the ground. He heard a loud crack beneath him. Overcome by adrenaline, Ben gathered his thoughts and attempted to climb to his feet, only to be haulted by a relentless flurry of shooting pains in his right shin. Ben had suffered a spiral fracture in his tibia and had to wait for hours until his parents made the trek up to Nub’s Nob to pick up their crushed son. Ben recalls that day as being both traumatic and extremely painful.

“Breaking my leg was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to overcome,” Ben said. “I hadn’t eaten all day, so they couldn’t give me any meds. I was just stuck with the pain for a while, and it was awful. The car ride home was the worst thing because any sort of bump at all was extremely painful.”

His perfect day on the slopes had changed in an instant, sidelining him from skiing that year and even prohibiting him from getting his driver’s license on time. He spent months in a wheelchair, then moved to crutches and embarked on a grueling rehab journey towards getting back on the hills.

“My sophomore year was going to be the year that I planned to get a lot better at skiing and see what my true potential was,” Ben said, “To be out so early in the season was really depressing, and it got me down for a long time.”

Ben’s injury occurred in early December, and his leg would not be fully healed until August of the following year.

“In a way, it was sort of a good thing,” Ben said. “It forced me to come back stronger than ever, and I knew that I couldn’t be depressed forever. I knew I had to keep on grinding so, when I could, I started running and lifting weights to try to get back into it.”

Despite it all, Ben came back stronger than ever and is now a vital member of the FHC ski team. Skiing, however, is only one integral part of Ben’s time at FHC. The other is only beginning.

At the age of seven, about the same time that Ben joined the Cannonsburg ski team, he took a trip down to the British Virgin Islands to visit his aunt and uncle who live on a sailboat full time in the basking sun of the tropical island tides. Ben’s parents were expecting an ordinary visit for him to catch up with his family and learn about their incredible lifestyle, but it ended up sparking a passion inside of him that is now pushing the very boundaries of sports at FHC.

When Ben returned to the states, he was eager to try out sailing to see if he would enjoy competitive racing. He signed up for a few races and discovered that he was able to keep up with the other kids that were similar to his age and then some. He knew that he would need coaching and instruction in order to put the finishing touches on his sailing skills. He looked to Olympic gold medalist sailor Allison Jolly to help him further himself in the sport of sailing, and Jolly knew right away that he would be the perfect kid to coach from the start.

“As early as our initial introductions prior to class, Ben was incredibly enthusiastic,” Jolly said. “I knew right away that he would be a great asset to our US Sailing Instructor class. Ben was the model US Sailing instructor-trainer, participating in discussions, soaking up the knowledge and experience of others, asking questions, and truly interested in gaining as much from the 40 hour class as possible, being the best.”

Jolly described sailing as being incredibly enjoyable and believes that it is a sport that can follow you well past your prime.

“The best thing about the sport of sailing is that it is a unique blend of athleticism and intellectualism. Fortunately, the two tend to balance each other out. Every regatta is another opportunity to gain experience, no matter how you place. The oldest person to ever compete in an Olympic event was a sailor from Bermuda. Even when the competitive years are behind you, it is still one of the most enjoyable pastimes.”

Ben is now in the process of starting up FHC’s first ever sailing team and had come very close to having an official team for this fall. Unfortunately, some things fell through last minute for the team, and Ben believes that the process of starting one will prove to be much more difficult than he originally thought.

There are two sailing seasons: spring season and fall season. Ben participates in crew during the spring, so he decided that the fall season would be most ideal to start the team in.

“I reached out to a bunch of people and got a lot of interest,” Ben said. “Obviously, there is a lot of conflict with the other sports of interest that people wanted to do in the fall. I do crew in the spring, but I don’t really do anything in the fall, so I wanted to start the fall season up. Unfortunately, that did not gather a whole lot of interest.”

Ben tried to start it up for this fall at the very last minute, needing 3 other people to create a team. Unfortunately, the team never came together due to other sports in the fall and a lack of communication in trying to create the team. Despite this, Ben borrowed a boat from the EGR sailing team and decided to compete in states and represent FHC anyway. He fell only a single point short of first place in the state and is eager to come out again next season to win it.

There are a few more hurdles that Ben will have to jump over in order to create the team. One of those is to get FHC Athletic Director Clark Udell to approve the team. Ben senses that Udell is not very interested in starting up another fall sports team.

“I’m not sure how likely it is that we will end up starting a team because [Mr. Udell] doesn’t seem that interested in starting up a new team,” he said.

Senior skier and fellow ski team captain Mark Scannell has gotten to know Ben really well over time and believes that he has the tangibles and leadership that is needed to begin a program.

“The kids really admire him,” Mark said. “He is a really good planner and a really logical person. He can work with people well and is able to get things figured out. He is a good listener but is also able to come to a conclusion very quickly. He gets things done fast and does them well. I do think that he could [start the team], but it’s just a matter of finding enough kids who are interested, because sailing is a very uncommon sport and it’s not what a lot of kids do. But, if he does get a team together, I think that it would be very well run and organized. If I didn’t have a sport in the fall, I would do it for sure.”

For Ben, skiing and sailing are two huge parts of his life, and he enjoys every single second of doing both.

“Between skiing and sailing, I can’t decide which one I like more,” Ben said. “That’s why I want to start a team so badly. It is so important to me.”

Now however, it is a question of whether or not Ben will be able to create the team before he heads off to college. He believes that they can get it done and that it only takes a few passionate students to start the legacy.

“All it will take are a few students who are interested to do it. We just need a select few to get involved and make it happen.”