CROSS COUNTRY: Grand Blanc's Fisher races for successTrack and Field  |
By Bill Khan
Grand Blanc - If you want to make Grant Fisher uncomfortable, start comparing him to Dathan Ritzenhein.
The comparisons are increasingly valid, as Fisher's body of work creeps ever closer to the feats of Ritzenhein, the 2001 Rockford graduate and three-time Olympian who is the consensus choice as Michigan's greatest high school distance runner. Think of "Ritz" as running's version of Magic Johnson.
"The closest thing we've had since Ritzenhein ran is Fisher," Milford senior Sean Noone said. "That's pretty cool."
But even though it has never been more reasonable to mention a Michigan runner in the same breath as Ritzenhein, Fisher can't quite wrap his head around the concept.
"It's very weird, actually," said Fisher, a senior at Grand Blanc. "Ever since I started running, the first big name you learn in Michigan is Dathan Ritzenhein. After my freshman year and my sophomore year, I got to know what he had done during his career. Now that people are comparing what I'm doing to him, it really doesn't feel right. It's kind of surreal. I don't think it's a fair comparison to compare anybody to Ritz."
So, Fisher maintains a healthy case of hero worship, even as he's become the biggest deal in Michigan distance-running circles since Ritzenhein enjoyed rock-star status as a senior at Rockford.
Before last December, Fisher was just another fast kid - if such a thing can be said about someone who ran 4:15.8 for 1,600 meters and 9:04.33 in the 3,200 as a sophomore at the state meet.
Fisher's profile elevated considerably when he won an epic duel with John Dressel of Washington at the national Foot Locker meet in San Diego. Ritzenhein was the only junior from Michigan to win Foot Locker, doing so in 1999.
The hype intensified during track season. Fisher followed his distance sweep in the state meet by winning the Adidas Dream Mile in New York with a time of 4:02.02 and the two-mile run at the Brooks PR Invitational in Renton, Wash. in 8:51.28.
To top it off, Fisher was featured on the cover of the September issue of Running Times, a major national magazine. The cover shot showed Fisher and some of his training partners doing a summer workout at Bicentennial Park in Grand Blanc.
Typical of Fisher, he was more excited that his friends got to share some of his glory than in being the focus of the cover.
"It was really cool that the place I ran and put in a lot of hard work made it on the cover of the magazine, and all my teammates and all the guys who push me every day made it on the cover," Fisher said. "It means so much. Those guys I've known for four years. We train together. We work hard together. We see each other every day. We have a pretty tight bond. Obviously, some of the experiences I have my teammates don't also have. So, in that situation, to take something that I would experience and share it with those guys, it means a lot."
Fisher took a two-week break after an intense summer of elite track races, then slowly got back into cross country training. He missed Grand Blanc's first few meets before returning to the lineup on Sept. 20 to win the Jackson Invitational in 15:22.3. Two weeks later, the comparisons to Ritzenhein reached the boiling point when Fisher smoked a tough field at the Portage Invitational in 14:43 - just one second off Ritzenhein's 2000 course record.
Fisher had no idea he was threatening such a hallowed record.
"Afterward, I definitely found out," he said. "It was probably for my best interest that I didn't get the course record. It keeps me hungry. Dathan is someone that everybody looks up to. He's the best distance runner to come out of Michigan ever. It puts me in a good situation, so I'm still gunning for something and I'm still hungry. If I would've gotten the record, it might have made me a little too content to make me think I made it."
While he fell short of that record, the holy grail of all distance-running records in Michigan is still out there for Fisher to pursue - Ritzenhein's phenomenal 14:10.4 performance in the 2000 state Division 1 meet. That is a whopping 40.6 seconds faster than anyone else has ever run the course at Michigan International Speedway, which has hosted the state meet since 1996.
With title defenses in the Foot Locker Midwest Regional and national meets following the state meet, Fisher hasn't decided if he'll run for a fast time at MIS or simply do whatever is necessary to repeat as state champion and move on from there.
"It's got to be one of the hardest state records in the U.S. to go for," said Fisher, who has met Ritzenhein on two occasions. "As we saw last year at MIS, it can get a little muddy and slow. The decision of whether or not I'll really try to go for the record is for a later time. It's tough, because our state meet is almost a month-and-a-half before Foot Locker nationals. It's going to be a tough judgment of whether I want to get ramped up for states and take a shot at the record and run fast or wait to peak later at nationals."
All of the accolades and attention could get inside the head of a 17-year-old high school kid, but Fisher is remarkably well-grounded. He is highly regarded as much for the way he carries himself as for his running accomplishments.
"He's got a unique charisma about him," Grand Blanc coach Ed Stanbury said. "He's the one kid I've seen over the years who can continue to improve and have a sense of humility and humbleness about him. That's unique. You don't see that from athletes. What more can you ask for as a head coach?"
What Fisher's mother, Sonia, remembers most about his victory in the Brooks PR Invitational isn't the blistering time he ran or the flawless race tactics which enabled him to secure the victory. No, it was the fact that Fisher was the only runner in the field who returned to the finish line to shake the hand of the last-place finisher.
"That means so much more to me that he's a good person," his mother said. "He wins, obviously, and everybody's excited about that. But when I see him taking the time to touch everyone he races and say whatever he says to them, that's when I start crying. The emotional part for me is when he's more thoughtful and his humbleness."
Just looking around the dinner table is enough to keep Fisher from feeling too full of himself.
His father, Dan, was a distance runner at Arizona State University. His mother ran middle distance for the University of Houston.
His sister, Hailey, played soccer at the University of Michigan before transferring to Miami of Ohio.
And there's the potential that Fisher's records could be broken by his brother, Mark, who ran similar two-mile cross country times as an eighth-grader this fall. Mark was also on a national championship youth soccer team.
"Really, when you look at some of the things I've done, it's not really a huge deal," Fisher said. "My family is just so exceptional. They motivate me, and so do my friends and teammates."
Even the state's great runners, whose chances of winning championships are greatly diminished by Fisher's presence, genuinely like him.
"It's obviously very humbling to race guys like that, but also an honor, in the same respect," said Waterford Mott senior Ryan Robinson, who was 21st at the national Foot Locker meet last year. "Guys like Grant Fisher don't come around this country or even this earth too often. He's obviously truly blessed. I'm happy to just be out there duking it out with him. He's a great guy. At Foot Locker nationals, I got to spend some time with him. It really opened my eyes to see not only what a great runner he is, but what a great guy. Anyone who races against him will attest to that."
Howell senior Brian Moore, who was 22nd in the state meet last year, ran side by side with Fisher during a dual meet on Sept. 23. The two chatted as they ran alone up front at a relatively pedestrian pace, but Moore knew how this race would end. Fisher picked it up down the stretch and won in 16:51, his slowest time since his freshman year. Moore knew it was pointless to push the pace against a speedster who hasn't lost a cross country race since the 2012 Midwest Regional.
"All runners have a dream of beating him," Moore said. "Once he's 100 yards ahead of you, yeah, that's a dream. He's a really nice kid. He's very mellow. He's competitive, but silently. He's not like, 'I'm going to beat you' or anything."
A significant difference for Fisher this fall is that he's not playing soccer. He juggled high school soccer and cross country his first three years at Grand Blanc, missing the 2012 state cross country meet because the Bobcats were playing in the state Division 1 soccer final.
Fisher misses soccer, which he started playing at age five. He plans on playing in a low-key, indoor six-on-six league with some friends from school this winter and may play travel soccer in the spring. But it was his success in running that made him realize where his future lies.
He can have his pick of distance-running powerhouses in college, but has crossed off his list any school with a reputation as a high-mileage program. Fisher has never exceeded 50 miles in a week, a low total among elite high school runners, but one which has worked for him while he's stayed healthy.
Fisher has narrowed his list of schools to five, but won't reveal their names.
"I don't want any outside influence on the decision," said Fisher, who has a 4.15 grade-point average and plans to major in engineering.Tweet