Thursday, February 2, 2012

More About Matt

As promised, Team Evotri took some time and sat down with Matt to get some questions answered so that you all can get to know more about him. Grab your favorite recovery drink and kick up your heels and enjoy:

What's your triathlon background?
Growing up I was always the average runner. I started running with my dad when I was young, but was super slow. Got into track in 6th grade, ran a 7:45 mile giving it my best. I was a little guy with not an ounce of muscle on me at barely 5-feet tall and 75-80 lbs soaking wet. I just wasn't cut out for the athletic lifestyle. But I sure loved to run. I really wanted to be good and I would always ask my dad how can I get faster, how can I beat the next guy in front of me. I was determined. He told me to run two miles before school a couple days a week, so I did. Improvements in my times showed, so I increased that run to every day. I asked him why the other kids were bigger and stronger than me, he didn't give me an answer. He just told me to do something about it. So I started doing push-ups and sit ups every night. I also found these running hand weights in our basement that I used every morning that I ran. They were only two lbs a piece, but over a 2 mile run when you only weigh 80 lbs, it's a lot! I was doing everything I could to get faster.

By the end of 7th grade track I had run a 6:30 mile. I was still getting my butt kicked by the other faster kids and hated it. Losing has never been a thing I enjoyed, so I vowed to do everything I could to get to the top of my game. I kept the same formula for a long time, and by the end of 8th grade track I had run a 5:35, and qualified for the district meet. I nearly had tears in my eyes when I saw my dad at the finish line and saw how excited and proud he was of me.

Throughout high school the kids seemed to get exponentially larger and faster. I was just cruising along like the tortoise. Although I had some success in sports (XC, Swimming, Track) I realizied  that I was giving it everything I had, but I wasn't winning. That was tough. I had to find my niche! I was PRing like crazy, but couldn't seem to crack the code to be on top.

After high school, I was off to Michigan State and didn't really have a shot to compete athletically in a varsity sport. My uncle called me up one day and asked if I wanted to race him in a triathlon coming up in a month. I was still swimming with a summer league and running with all my high school buddies so I was in great shape, the only thing was biking. I had never ridden a bike for anything other than going over to a friends house a mile down the street. But I wrote it off like it was easy.

The day of the race came, my uncle and I were talking smack to each other. I was bummed out because we were in different waves, he was in the first and I was in the last, about twenty minutes apart. In the end, I placed 20th overall, catching my uncle and passing him on the run within the last mile. I thought to myself, "This is my calling." The bike portion was very rough that day; I averaged something like 20 MPH and it felt like I was going backward in a NASCAR race; people riding their disc wheels blowing by me with reckless disregard. I knew to be successful and get where I wanted to I was going to have to learn how to bike.

From that day on, I started to focus on triathlons specifically. I got involved with the tri club up at Michigan State and met a great crew. They pushed me, were great friends, and even taught me how to drink and do a beer mile. I have done 3 Ironmans (including Kona 2011) and look to continue that distance well into the future, with the ultimate goal of mastering the big island. I had a rough journey there this year, and the island gods tried to discourage me from coming back. They got the best of me in 2011, but I will win the war. Today I still strive for the best out of myself, always remembering the times my dad told me he was proud of me. Seeing the joy my success brings to him really keeps me motivated.

What are you looking forward to the most being a part of Team Evotri?
Since graduating from Michigan State last Spring, I miss a team atmosphere. I was connected to the Michigan State Triathlon Team for nearly 5 years. With them, I shared some of my most memorable moments of my life and the six months since I left feels like an eternity. I look forward to filling that void and creating that same bond with every member of Evotri. The team training camp in Chattanooga in April is what I am most looking forward to; getting together for an extended weekend of training and shenanigans with a great group of people. It will remind me of the glory days of high school cross country camps, may just have to pull up that old list of high school pranks to really bring those days back to life.

Is there an athlete you model yourself after or idolize?
There isn’t really a specific athlete at the moment that I idolize. What Chrissie Wellington has done the past few years in the sport of Ironman distance triathlon is unbelievable. She would be the closest to an athlete I idolize. She came onto the scene out of nowhere, is very humble, and shows no mercy to her competitors. She goes out there and tries to put every possible minute she can into her competition. I love the idea of a dominant athlete (male or female) and it isn’t too often that one of this nature comes around, especially in a sport as grueling as Ironmans. Another aspect that really draws me to her is how humble and easy going she is. Most multi-world champions would be all about themselves, much like the world revolves around them, but not Chrissie. She is truly a class act, and if I could model myself around an athlete, she would be the one.

What word(s) describes you best?
Fearless (unless it involves bugs)
Laid Back / Easy Going

What is your greatest triathlon accomplishment?
To this day, my greatest triathlon accomplishment is qualifying for Ironman Hawaii. Putting in countless hours of training alongside my already busy schedule of classes at Michigan State challenged my character. Most days I'd go for a swim or a run before class, attend classes 6 to 8 hrs a day, then complete another workout or two after. I really gave everything I had in me during that year leading up to Ironman Florida. And with the things that went wrong, for me to bounce back and come out on top was so bittersweet. I was taking 16 credits of senior engineering classes, training 15-20 hours a week, and additional countless miscellaneous hours that went with the classes. It was an unbelievable feeling crossing the line and seeing a time on the clock that I had earned through the past year, but the ultimate rush didn't come till the following day. I had finished second in my age group, just under a minute behind first place. I literally pissed first place away in a port-a-potty. I was nervous because I thought that I gave away my Kona slot because of that.

When I woke up the next morning to go see the damage, I was quite nervous. I went to the Ironman Kona Registration tent to find out my fate: "Did I qualify?"

I read over the sheet breaking down the number of slots given to each age group and saw Male 18-24 2 slots. YES!!!!! I HAD DONE IT. I was in shock for a few weeks following the race, did that really happen?? But at the end of the day, whenever I think about my greatest triathlon accomplishment, that would have to be it. The amount of time I put in and the result that I got out if it really solidified the fact that that day was the best day of my tri career.

What is your greatest triathlon failure?
My greatest triathlon failure would have to be at the Collegiate National Championship race in 2011. I had worked so hard in the months leading up to the race and was firing on all cylinders. I was sure I was going to have a great race. All the preparation was done, my body was fresh, and nothing could knock me off this high.

Collegiate Nationals was the biggest race for me every year. It was my chance to measure myself against all the other college triathletes in the nation. I had had a rocky track record at this race the past few years placing 30th, 130th, 10th, and then 110th. It had seemed like every year things went well for me the following year I was plagued with a terrible injury of some sort. This year nothing was standing in my way but myself. I had set the ultimate goal that I wanted to win this race, but would be very pleased with a top 5 finish, ultimately getting me a spot on the podium at the award ceremony.

The swim started off shaky for me. I felt I wasn't swimming very strongly and was getting dropped by guys I knew I should be leading. I kept my composure and toughed out the rest of the swim, exiting the water around 20th place. I knew I was a ways back and needed to make up ground, so I changed my race strategy to give myself the best chance of achieving my goal. I got on the bike and started hammering, going by guys left and right. Before I knew it I had myself all the way up into 4th place! By mile 10 I noticed that I had been working so hard, I had consumed all of my water. I tried to stay focused, but realized shortly thereafter that the end was near. The weather had been extremely hot and muggy, nearly 85°F with lots of humidity. My body wouldn't last another loop on the bike without any fluids.

I bled right through the pack, falling farther and farther back with each weak pedal stroke. I came off the bike in 10th or 11th, but the worst was yet to come. I hit the run and had nothing. I was completely depleted. I ended up finishing in the mid 90s overall, but running nearly 10 minutes slower than I had hoped to run that day. It was a very tough race to swallow and I let it bother me for a very long time after as well.

The reason this is my greatest failure is because of the amount of work, time, and preparation I put in and the measly result that I got out of it. Also, that it was my final year at the event hit me that much harder. The more I studied the result the more I realized what I had done. I had been training through the cold harsh winters of Michigan, prepared for the coldest of races, both nutritionally and physically. I hadn’t taken into account the weather and how key of a role that plays on your race strategy. I failed because I had overlooked one of the most key pieces of race preparation. All the work had been put in physically, no doubt in my mind if the race was 55-60° I would have been right there duking it out, but that's not how the day played out, and due to my poor preparation I left myself wondering, "What if?"

What drives you every day?
I wouldn't be where I am today without my family and friends support. My family has played such a huge role in my athletic development. They have attended 99.9% of all my sports and meets growing up, whether it was a silly little flag football game or the state cross country meet, they were always there for me telling me how proud they were of me, cheering me up when I was down. It is unbelievable how much people who love you will do for you. I want to take a minute to thank each and every one of my family members for their previous and continued support with all my endeavors. Knowing that you guys are always praying for me and with me on the sidelines of every race, really gives me the strength I need on the days when all I want to do is throw in the towel and lay on the couch. Thank you guys.

And I’m glad that I had the opportunity to give back to them last year by providing them with an excuse to take a vacation to Hawaii to cheer me on.

What is your favorite food?
Most athletes are obsessed with what they eat around the clock. They are all about healthy smoothies, calorie counting, and reading nutritional labels. And that works for the majority of the population. For me, I was built a little bit differently. My body reacts completely the opposite. If I conjure a healthy smoothie I will be "taking the browns to the super bowl." But if I have a greasy burger, fries, candy, chips, or any garbage food you can think of, I am unaffected. I am a rare breed! Therefore, my favorite food (outside of any candy you can put in front of me) would be anything served at a Chinese buffet. They could totally write a Dr. Seuss book about it, "piling plates on top of plates as I race through the aisles, stacking them on my toes and my nose, watching the food as it piles!" The book is a work in progress, but you cant go wrong with a good 'ole hole in the wall Chinese buffet.

If you were invisible, where would you go?
If I were invisible, I would want to go to Hogwarts. Unfortunately, when I was a kid I never received my letter to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry due to the fact that I was a mere Muggle. So for me to get the opportunity to wander the corridors of Hogwarts, walk through the forbidden forest, sneak into the restricted section in the library, or even have an ice cold pint of Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, I would be a happy man!

You have a 10 minute speech to give to high schoolers, what is it about?
If I had 10 minutes to talk to a room full of high schoolers, I would stress how important it is to set goals and work towards them. Go for your dreams! I have a soft spot for helping them out because they are at the age of choosing. Choosing who they want to be and what to make of their lives.

When I was a junior in high school, I had a choice. I had just come off an injury in cross country and was looking to take out my anger in the pool. After two frustrating seasons, I made it my goal to right this ship.

I was putting in so much hard work, taking every ounce of energy from myself to the point where I could barely pull myself out of the pool at the end of the day. It took all season, but finally at the end of the year I had a breakthrough. At the final meet of the season I swam the 100 breastroke and the 500 free. I qualified for the finals in the 500 but had tied another swimmer for 8th place in the breast. In order to make finals, I had to compete in a swim-off.

The starter called us up onto the blocks and we were off. I had a great start, I could just feel it. Hit the first wall first and knew there was no time look back. I hit the halfway mark, closed my eyes and pushed off the wall with all my might, "Was he still there?" The last length seemed to go by so slow and dramatic, just like in the movies. I hit the wall and the race was over, I had made it to the finals. I had also dropped my time by 2 seconds.

Looking back at that moment in my life, I realize that something clicked that day. I recognized that I had made the choice to work hard and it was paying off.

My story of hard work and how it paves the way to success would show them that anything and everything is possible if you put your mind to it. Set high goals, go for your dreams! Never give up. If you don't believe in yourself, you are quitting before you even start. Why would you sell yourself short before the race even starts? If you come in with a positive attitude and believe that what you want to achieve is possible, you will be successful in anything and everything you do.

I like working with athletes because athletics paves the way to success elsewhere. If you want something bad enough - a PR, Varsity Letter, to be All State - whatever it may be, go for it. Give it everything you have, and if you fall short one or multiple times, get your ass back up and try for it again. Nobody ever gets everything they want on their first try. It takes hard work, dedication, and perseverance. And if you understand and put those traits into action in sports, you can do it in every aspect of life.

Can you can beat JP in a full-distance race?
All the facts seem to point to no, but my magic 8-ball that I use for very special occasions (such as wishing for Hot Tamales and Sour Patch Kids to be on sale at the grocery store), seems to tell me otherwise. Currently I am 0-3 against him with 2 very large margined defeats, and one that I let slip away in the last 10K. The older, and self proclaimed wiser one, JP, likes to remind me of my abysmal record at this distance, but I have learned a lot, and can smell my first W drawing nearer. And once I crack the code, he will be in for a long future of finishing second to me in Ironmans!