Jarkko Tuominen’s life was cut short, but the passionate, dedicated Nike Soccer employee will now be remembered at a place he loved: a soccer pitch.
Concordia University in Northeast Portland has named its new all-weather, lighted, collegiate-level soccer field in honor of the ‘94 alumnus, who died in an accidental fall during a beach trip with friends in September 2005.
Tuominen remains one of the most decorated Cavaliers in Concordia University history, leading the men’s soccer team to their first NAIA tournament, earning two NAIA All-American honors and a pair of Academic All-American accolades.
Concordia men’s head soccer coach Dan Birkey, who worked with Nike to honor the former player, said “Jarkko was exactly the type of young man we want as a Concordia student-athlete, and he embodied the Concordia mission: he was a true leader.”
Joe Elsmore, U.S. Marketing Director for Soccer, remembers Tuominen as the kind of person Nike celebrates as well. “He was an inspiring personality to be around, a person who made others happy,” Elsmore says, “he was the perfect fit for Nike’s Maxims.”
Birkey and Elsmore began driving plans for the field about five years ago and the effort quickly became an integrated Nike effort. North America DTC contributed a $250,000 cash grant, Nike North America kicked in $120,000 toward the athletic complex, and Nike also committed to a six-year men’s and women’s soccer uniform sponsorship.
Tuominen Yard is the first collegiate field made using 100-percent Nike Grind rubber infill. More than 190 tons of premium-grade material recycled from manufacturing approximately six million pairs of shoes is used in the surface. High-performance rubber designed for shoes on athletes can now be found in the surface on which they perform.
The field is part of the $7.5 million Concordia University & Community Athletic Complex that includes soccer and baseball facilities and will be shared equally between community groups and the University, in line with Nike’s commitment to expand access to sport.
Tim Hershey, VP of North America Retail, spoke at the March 3 grand opening ceremonies, which was emceed by ESPN’s Neil Everett. “I’m proud to be here today to dedicate this state of the art field to Jarkko Tuominen,” Hershey said. “He is fondly remembered as a positive man with a zest for life. He made such an impact on us at Nike, among his colleagues and friends. It goes without saying that he was an extraordinary athlete as well.”
Part of Nike family from the start
Tuominen grew up a Nike kid. His father Jaakko Tuominen represented Finland in the 1964 and ‘68 Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles, joined Nike Finland and later became Sports Marketing Director for track and field at WHQ.
Tuominen had an internship with Nike Soccer and worked at a factory store and employee store in Oregon before landing his dream position in Soccer Sports Marketing. “Soccer has been my passion for most of my life,” wrote Tuominen in a letter to Nike, “and to have a chance to be able to have a job in the field of soccer would be a dream come true.”
He found his calling, and later moved to the East Coast to work in soccer sales. “He provided a huge competitive advantage for Nike that helped us grow our business, just by being himself,” says Elsmore. “Everyone loved him.”
One of his former clients, Seacoast United in New Hampshire, also named a field in Tuominen’s honor in 2009. “Jarkko was a dear friend to all of us at the Club and a Seacoast United fan through and through. We loved him and while we miss his big smile and sense of humor, he will forever be a part of Seacoast United,” writes Paul Willis, the Club’s Executive Director. Seacoast United also holds a Tuominen memorial golf tournament every August, and awards deserving high school seniors with college scholarships in Tuominen’s name.
Tuominen was in the process of transitioning back to WHQ and Sports Marketing when the tragedy struck. He is still very much missed by his former teammates. A group of them get together each September to remember Tuominen at Kells Irish Pub, one of his favorite Portland haunts.
“His legacy will be with us forever,” Elsmore says. “His love and passion for Nike was always there.” He’s certain Jarkko would be thrilled by the field: “He’d think it was the greatest thing.”