AGELESS WONDER: Lynch competing for Clinton cross country at 41

Phil Lynch (left) and Logan VanBuren (right) lead their teammates through a drill at Clinton Community cross country practice in Plattsburgh. (Joey LaFranca/Staff Photo)

PLATTSBURGH — Age is only a number, and Phil Lynch scoffs at Father Time.

The Saranac native is making his mark on this year’s Clinton Community College men’s cross country team.

When you first see Lynch, you may think the 41-year-old is part of the coaching staff, but not so fast.

He’s on the team, and he’s not just competing for fun.

As he takes part in his second year of Clinton’s nursing program, he’s also running for the Cougars and having a blast.

“It kind of goes hand-in-hand with nursing,” Lynch said. “If you are up for one challenge, you are up for any number of challenges. I have been a runner for about 10 years or so racing at the local and competitive level. There’s a great nursing program here, and there are great coaches with the cross country program, so it was a natural fit to join the team.”

JOINING ON

Clinton coach Keith Bombard found out Lynch was attending nursing school and figured it would be worth a shot to reach out and see if he had interest in joining the team.

So after a couple conversations and keeping in touch through this winter and spring, they turned what some would call a fantasy into a reality.

“It’s like having an extra coach,” Bombard said. “He’s got all this experience, and he is very well respected by his teammates. For him to do what he is doing, we have the perfect group to make that possible.”

There were plenty of factors that drew Lynch to the team.

He knew Bombard and Andy Hastings, Clinton’s other cross country coach, would be a wealth of knowledge, and it did not take long for Lynch to realize he had some great teammates, too.

“It’s an amazing group of young talent,” Lynch said. “I don’t think these guys even realize yet what they are capable of doing. They are all experienced runners, and a lot of potential exists for them. It’s great to be part of something like this.”

TEAMMATES’ RESPECT

Some would call a man at 41 running collegiately comical, and Lynch said it’s absolutely true and loves it.

A scenario that could be seen as odd by some has become nothing but normal for members of the Cougars.

“Having Phil on the team is so cool,” said Logan VanBuren, one of Lynch’s teammates.

“It’s great to have someone a little older and know someone that is around running that isn’t a coach. It’s a blast to go out and run with him and kind of learn when we are running and hear what type of training he has had.”

When VanBuren heard Lynch was joining the team, he had two thoughts cross his mind.

“First of all, I thought it was really great,” VanBuren said. “Second of all, I thought to myself, ‘Man, I hope he does not beat me.’”

COMPETING

All the buildup to the season was exciting for Lynch and his teammates, but after a bit, the early-season practices and prep for the season paid off.

Clinton opened with the Plattsburgh State Season Opener and made history.

“I have been at a lot of starting lines in my career,” Lynch said. “I would not say it was overwhelming, but it was intimidating to a certain extent. It was exciting, too. I enjoy the challenge.”

The Cougars finished fifth and scored as a team for the first time in the program’s 3-year history.

VanBuren was Clinton’s top finisher, taking eighth in the race with a time of 16:42.1, and Lynch was next.

Lynch finished 38th at 18:49, Iziah Jock (20:38.3) was 52nd, Landon Peters (23:02.2) 59th, Tyler LaClair (23:53.1) 63rd and rounding out the team was Myles Mitchell (28:57.0) in 65th.

For the Cougars, the opening race was great, and there was a bit of comedy as well at the starting line.

“I was definitely getting some funny looks,” Lynch said. “People were probably thinking, ‘Is that a coach? I don’t really know.’

“On a local level, I have been racing long enough where a lot of people know me, but there were some of the out-of-towners seeing the gray hair and wondering.”

GREAT SUPPORT

As if Lynch was not already busy enough going to school and competing on the cross country team, he also has a wife and two kids at home who both run on Saranac’s cross country squad.

“I have a great support system,” Lynch said. “I have a family of runners, and we are always striving to improve. Running is a lifetime sport. You get the health benefits, and I can still stay competitive at an older age. I still have it. I might as well use it when I got it.”

He thanked his family for being there for him through this journey and knows this will all make for great stories later in life.

But for the present, Lynch is focused on his future. He currently works per diem at CVPH with the mental health unit and knows there will be plenty of pathways to follow after graduation.

He said he has some interest in becoming a travelling nurse but also noted that he has a lot more to learn and wants to keep his options open before choosing an exact path.

“The nice thing for now is cross country does help keep me on a schedule,” Lynch said. “The nursing program is demanding and requires a lot of my time. I can schedule my running around my nursing, and having a practice to go to every day is refreshing.”

BIGGER PICTURE

Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic last fall, Lynch would have joined the Cougars in 2020, but he had to wait since there was no season.

For this year, cross country will be the only sport at Clinton, as soccer and basketball regroup and build up new rosters.

“Having the cross country team be able to compete is incredible for us, and Phil makes the season even better with what he is doing and all the challenges he is taking on,” Clinton athletic director Kevin Daugherty said.

“It’s nice to show everyone that we are committed to athletics, too. The situation with COVID is no fault of our own. The fact we do have the cross country season going is a big plus that can hopefully lead us to bringing the other programs back. We want people to know we are not going anywhere.”

ULTIMATE GOAL

For Lynch, he wants to do his part to help grow the cross country program and work to be the best he can be for the team every day.

Having run the Boston, Chicago and New York City marathons, and getting set to run the Boston Marathon this October, he plans to use his training with Clinton to his advantage.

He joked and said his top priority this season will be to not get injured, but ultimately, there’s a simple mindset he carries on with.

Lynch wants to learn from his coaches, enjoy time with his teammates and make the most of every opportunity.

“I want to pick up and learn as much as I can, and the coaches have been a tremendous wealth of information because I have never had coaching like this before,” Lynch said.

“Even better, I have some fantastic teammates. I am learning from them as much as they are learning from me.

“It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.”

Email Joey LaFranca:

jlafranca@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @JoeyLaFranca

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