USA TODAY High School Sports is featuring each of the 12 finalists for the Gatorade Athlete of the Year award during a two-week series leading into the July 15 announcement in Los Angeles. The award is given to the top male and female among the 12 finalists, who won their respective sport’s national player of the year award earlier in the 2013-14 school year. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Grant Fisher’s emergence as one of the nation’s best prep distance runners might not have been had he chosen to pursue his first passion instead.
Fisher, who will be a senior this fall at Grand Blanc (Mich.), started running in middle school simply as a means to stay in shape for soccer.
Though he exuded natural running talent, he lacked the passion to pursue it seriously until his freshman year, when he qualified for the state meet. Hearing the crowd cheer and being in the stadium atmosphere was enough of a turning point for Fisher to steer his attention away from soccer and focus more on running. While Fisher competes in both sports, he said running is definitely the priority.
“The transition was a weird feeling because I had been playing soccer for so long,” he said. “I didn’t think it would turn out like this.”
“Like this” includes winning a Foot Locker Cross Country Championship National title, competing at the World Youth Championships and meeting Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, who presented Fisher with the Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year trophy.
Fisher chatted recently with USA TODAY High School Sports’ Sarah Gearhart.
Gearhart: How has your attachment for running changed since middle school?
Fisher: My life would be pretty weird if I didn’t run. I don’t know if I’d still be playing soccer or if I’d be doing something else.
Gearhart: How do you juggle competing in two sports during the same season?
Fisher: I talked to both coaches before I started my freshman year and they were fine with it. It’s hard, but it worked out perfectly in my situation. The soccer and cross country coaches accommodated everything. I’d miss one cross country practice to go to a game for soccer or miss a soccer practice to go to a cross country meet.
Gearhart: Tell us about meeting Dathan Ritzenhein when he presented you with the Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year trophy.
Fisher: I walked into the room and there were cameras everywhere. I was confused. I thought something bad had happened. I saw Dathan with the trophy. Everyone knows him. Seeing him was pretty crazy. My teammates and I got to talk with him. For a while everyone was silent — we didn’t know what to say. It was pretty funny.
Gearhart: What about Dathan do you admire?
Fisher: He’s soft-spoken and doesn’t flaunt anything. If you’re good at something, I think it’s more powerful if you don’t talk about it.
Gearhart: Who do you most want to race against among past or present famous runners?
Fisher: Probably Dathan. He’s the best distance runner to ever come out of Michigan. He’s a hometown hero so to race alongside him would be pretty special.
Gearhart: You raced internationally for the first time at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Ukraine last summer. Tell us about your experience. How did the competition compare to racing in the U.S.?
Fisher: I’d never been to Europe. Everything was different — the cars, the buildings, the food, and everyone spoke Russian. I didn’t know what was going on. I was like an outsider, but everyone in Ukraine was welcoming. Being so far away from home was different too. I could only talk to people from home in the morning. The race was surreal. It was a weird thing to approach the starting line and have a 6-foot Kenyan guy standing on the line. It was kind of intimidating, but it was also exciting. International racing is more aggressive than racing in the U.S. It was common for people to bump around and touch shoulders. It took some adjusting, but I enjoyed it.
Gearhart: Who do you most look forward to racing against?
Fisher: Blake Haney from California. I met him about a year ago during a trial race. He beat me in the 3K and 1500. We raced in Ukraine together. He’s really great — not a showboat and is arguably one of the fastest guys in the nation. I always like a challenge.
Gearhart: What goes through your mind before you step to the starting line?
Fisher: I get nervous the night before and can’t sleep. It’s a good nervous. I visualize the race — it helps a lot. The nerves subside when I wake up.
Gearhart: Are you superstitious on race day?
Fisher: I like to put on my right shoe before my left shoe. It’s not just a race day thing. I do that will all of my shoes actually.
Gearhart: What’s your go-to race food?
Fisher: I eat something light in morning — oatmeal or cereal and a banana and an apple. I don’t try to give my body something it’s not used to.
Gearhart: How do you decompress when you’re not practicing or competing?
Fisher: I like sleeping a lot. When I’m not sleeping, I go out with friends or I’ll watch TV — maybe a basketball or a soccer game. I’m a big Lionel Messi fan.
Gearhart: What advice would you give the freshman version of yourself?
Fisher: Not to rush things. If I had to make the decision of which sport to focus on during my freshman year, I would have chosen soccer and wouldn’t be running at all now. I didn’t have to make that decision, and instead I gave it time. I’m a lot happier.