By Phillip Whitten
April 12. Mark Finley, a sophomore and standout member of the swim team at the University of Missouri Rolla has been stricken with a rare form of cancer and currently is undergoing daily chemotherapy. His plight was brought to our attention by Tim Sandfort, a former swimmer and now a student coach at Truman State University. Sandfort and Finley were teammates at the Rockwood Swim Club in St. Louis.
Finley, 19, entered the Division II school in the Fall of 1998 as an unheralded freshman, but he made vast improvements in a short period of time. At the 1999 NCAA Div. II Championships last year, the freshman placed third in the 500 yard freestyle, sixth in the 200 and eighth in the 200 back.
His coach, Doug Grooms described the sequence of events that occurred next:
"Last summer, Mark broke his scapula swimming, a few weeks before Junior Nationals.
"He came back in the Fall for the start of the school year, but after about six weeks, went back to the doctor, who discovered a large calcium deposit on his scapula."
In the following weeks, Finley's condition did not improve, nor did he make progress in his physical therapy. He was sent to an oncologist who diagnosed p-net sarcoma, a rare and fast-spreading form of cancer that usually strikes young people. A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.
"It was unbelievable," coach Groom said, "Mark is 6'4, 220 pounds and strong as an ox."
Finley dropped out of school and returned home to St. Louis, where he began undergoing daily radiation treatments last November.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed," said Groom, praying that everything will be okay. It was hard for our team," he said. "The kids were shocked and didn't know how to react, but they have been very supportive." So, too, have members of competing teams, who have sent cards to Finley wishing him a speedy recovery.
Reportedly, Mark is taking a positive approach to his illness and not letting it get him down. He is taking courses at a local community college, swimming a little, and helping coach young age groupers on a local team.
It would help Mark if he knew the US swimming community is pulling for him, just as we rallied around Chad Carvin four years ago after he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
To send get well wishes to Mark Finley, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.