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Oct. 16, 2013
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Tradition is a remarkable word. The term has been utilized over the history of time to create unforgettable moments out of forgettable actions. Eclectic groups, organizations, families and teams have shown the willpower to continue tradition, no matter the circumstances.
Such is the case for standout runner Matt Fischer. Described only by his head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan as "baby face" or "peach face" for his child-like facial features, the redshirt junior out of Kennett Square, Pa., has managed to preserve the men's cross country tradition while at the same time sprouting a few patches of stubble here and there.
This season, Fischer is running with "Rusty Boots." Well, he is not literally running with corroding steal blocks on his feet. Instead, the words are inked on his leg to represent what it truly means to run for Penn State.
"I can't really divulge what it means. It is kind of a well-kept secret within the guy's distance team," said Fischer. "I will say that it is a traditional motto for the men's cross country team that actually has been around for 40 years towards the beginning of Harry Groves coaching time here."
By not revealing the true secrecies of the 40-plus year tradition, Fischer exhibits exactly why his head coach is not hesitant to say he "exemplifies `Rusty Boots'."
But keeping tradition a secret is not the only reason why Fischer was inked. Fischer is a tremendous student in the classroom and has developed new traits during his time in State College that have added to the team's success this season.
"He's transformed from a kid who was simply part of a team to now being the leader of the team as a true captain and front-runner," said Alford-Sullivan. "He's cracked the code."
Like he does now at Penn State, during his days at Unionville high school, Fischer ran both cross country and track. Back then, Fischer was logging 50-mile weeks to train for his events. Such efforts allowed him to wave goodbye to Unionville as a state champion in the 2-mile run. Let's just say that his training has been modified just a bit since arriving at Penn State back in 2010.
"There is a huge improvement curve for distance running just because it takes more time for the body's cardiovascular system to mature and get used to the larger volume," said Fischer. "It definitely is a long process to get to the highest level of competition in NCAA, and coming from where I came from in high school to where I am now--running less than 50 miles a week back then to around 100 miles now--it definitely is a long way."
The old adage `hard work pays off' is the perfect phrase to represent Fischer. An intense training regiment has allowed Fischer to find success on both the cross country and track fields.
"He ran right at 14 minutes last year, which is a phenomenal run for a redshirt sophomore," said Alford-Sullivan. "This year I suspect he'll do even better things becoming more of a force in the Big Ten in his event on the track in the 5,000."
However, hard work is not a stranger to Fischer. He comes from a family where both parents were runners and where his brother, ironically, wrestled for Penn State. One would think that having a brother at Penn State who is also a student-athlete would spark competition, but that is not the case for Fischer and his brother, Nick.
"We used to [be competitive]. He actually used to run cross country in high school to get in shape, and that was back before I got really serious [about running]. We were a little bit competitive with running back then, but we are just supportive of each other now," said Fischer. "We get along really well. We are very close."
Due to Fischer's arduous training routine, last week at Paul Short Run was the first time he was able to run competitively in a meet all season.
"It was nice [to be able to race]. I hadn't raced in a while, and I was starting to get a little antsy with the team already having raced a couple of times," said Fischer. "Last week's race really wasn't the ideal race. It was hot, so it is not what you are used to normally with cross country. But, it was nice to get back out there. I felt a little rusty and not exactly 100 percent fresh, so I am hoping to feel 100% race ready by this weekend with the race at Pre-Nats."
Fischer managed to place 23rd out of 397 runners with a time of 24:32 to help the Nittany Lions finish in 10th place, but he stressed that he still has work to do in preparation for Pre-Nats this upcoming weekend.
"I am definitely hoping to come into true form for the season here and see what kind of shape I'm in for the rest of the season," said Fischer. "Hopefully we will have a confidence in our team that says `we are in a position that if we run well we can make it to the NCAA Championships and have a season that we are proud of.'"
The effort and determination that Fischer has displayed during his time at Penn State has not gone unnoticed by teammates, coaches and even professors.
"He epitomizes the heart and soul of the team," said Alford-Sullivan. "He has really learned about training and he has come to me with a lot of questions and insight into how to get better and what he wants to do. He's at a stage where he is running where the college guys have to run."
His triumph in races has been achieved while wearing running shoes, but it is his acquired leadership and intense training that has been a polished boot stuck in an otherwise rusty tradition.