By David Fong
COLUMBUS — For much of his young life, Matt Finkes wore a name on the back of his jersey.
And following his days playing football at Piqua High School, on through an All-American career at The Ohio State University and into a professional football career, he wore the name “Finkes” on the back of his jersey with pride.
These days, Finkes is wearing different names — 42 of them, to be exact — on a different kind of jersey, but he’s wearing them with no less pride than the one he wore during his impressive football career.
“Every year I ride for a different friend,” said Finkes, who will be riding a bicycle 180 miles Aug. 5-6 in Pelotonia, a bicycle ride that raises millions of dollars each year for cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. “A lot of teams have jerseys that say, ‘I ride for:’ on the back. I’ll have 42 names. I know a lot of people who have battled cancer, have lost their battle with cancer or continue to battle cancer.”
Finkes, a 1993 Piqua graduate, was an All-Ohio defensive lineman for the Indians before going on to earn All-American and All-Big Ten honors as a defensive end for the Buckeyes. Following a professional career that saw him drafted by the Carolina Panthers and play in the NFL, NFL Europe and XFL, Finkes found his competitive fires still burning once his football career came to an end.
And that’s how the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Finkes found his way into the unlikely sport of marathon running.
“You’ve still got that competitor in you when you get done playing football,” Finkes said. “You still want to challenge yourself. After I got done playing football, I wanted to challenge myself. I’ve always been a pretty good runner, so I just kind of decided to start running marathons. I’m guessing that’s not something a lot of former defensive linemen do — but then again, I’m guessing not a lot of defensive linemen ran the hurdles in high school, either.
“When I went to sign in for my first marathon, the Columbus Marathon, the lady told me, ‘Volunteers sign in over there.’ I told her, ‘No, I’m running in the race.’ I don’t think I looked like the typical marathon runner.”
Finkes would go on to complete seven marathons — including the prestigious New York City Marathon — before a series of health problems, many likely caused by lingering effects of his football career, brought his distance running career to an end.
“I had a lot of issues with my hip — my doctor told me I was too big to do as much running as I was doing,” Finkes said. “So I started looking into biking. Now all I do for cardio is biking.”
Soon after Finkes finished his marathon career and took up biking, he got a phone call in 2008 from former Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, who told Finkes about Pelotonia, which begins and ends in Columbus, the ride that would raise money for cancer research. Finkes didn’t hesitate signing up for the event.
“I know a lot of people who have been affected by cancer — I think just about everybody does, really,” he said. “A lot of people I know not just in Columbus, but back home in Piqua have been affected by it in some way.”
Finkes has ridden in Pelotonia every year since its began in 2008 and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the James Cancer Hospital. Thanks to funding partners who cover operating expenses, 100 percent of all money raised by riders goes directly toward cancer research. Finkes’ goal this year is to raise $10,000. To contribute to Finkes’ goal, visit www.pelotonia.org/mattfinkes
He’ll be one of only 41 riders who will have ridden every year in the 180-mile ride (the event also offers shorter rides).
“The way I look at it, people who are battling cancer are going through a (heck) of a lot more than I am riding a back 180 miles,” he said. “I’ve got the easy part compared to them.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong