Mike, you are probably one of the more colorful race walkers to hit the track in a long. Tell us how you came to race walking and how you got the name Italian Stallion.
First, I got into race walking as a walk on to my college track team (Notre Dame College outside of Cleveland) when they were in NAIA. I threw the javelin a bit with the hope I could score points in the conference meet. I was intrigued by race walking. I wanted to do it and do it well. I really liked it and saw it as a chance at something that I could be successful at.
My nickname really goes back to my father's desire for me to wrestle. When he was alive, he hoped I would wrestle but I didn't wish to do it. After he passed, I started to wrestle both to honor his request and to improve my fitness for high school football. The name came from wanted to honor my dad's heritage. Many people would kid me that I didn't seem Italian and I thought this was a great way to pay tribute to him and where I came from.
What did you accomplish in race walking while you were still in college?
I was the first male All American in track and field in school history. I was also the first national champion in track and field (2010 indoors, 13:19 3K).
Did you walk any longer distances in college?
I started doing the 20km while in college. My first was in 2009 and I walked a 1:50:51 without knowing how to prepare for it. It was only a year earlier that I was actively wrestling. By 2010 I was able to get my time down to a more respectable 1:39:15.
Did you feel at that point race walking would play such an important part in your life after college?
Yes. I knew I was hooked. I was very determined to see what I could do with race walking.
What are your ultimate goals?
There were many long term and short term goals: first to make a U.S. team, at least a team where there wasn't a need for an A or B time standard, hit a sub 1:36 20km, win the Penn Relays, finish high in the nationals and ultimately try to make an Olympic Team.
Do you see yourself as more of a 20km or 50km walker?
It is too early for me to say. A year ago I would have said 50km, but right now Coach Rohl is getting me to focus on a sub 1:30 20K. So in the long term I still want to focus on the 50km, but in the short term I am focusing on the 20km.
What do you find the biggest challenge to your time improving to where you have an A or B standard at either the 20km or 50km distance?
My biggest challenges are long term committed training. I am not saying I am not committed, but that I have to do what I am supposed to be doing over a long term without interruptions. Balancing grad school and training will be tough. I need to develop a new routine.
Obviously preventing injuries is also key as well as staying healthy. Funding is always an issue, assuming I go to grad school money will be tight.
I also don't know my physical limitation. Not everyone can walk the time standards needed to make an Olympic Team. I pray that my improvement will continue long enough that I can hit those times. I am optimistic but I also want to be realistic.
What was your biggest accomplishment to date in race walking and why?
I would have to say making the 2011 Pan Am Team was my biggest accomplishment. It was my first opportunity to wear the USA uniform in one of the most prestigious meets for a track and field athlete. It was particularly meaningful to be at an event where it wasn't solely race walking, but part of the larger track and field world.
Did the experience live up to expectations?
Absolutely. It was my first trip to anywhere outside of the US/Canada. Being around other passionate elite athletes from other sports from not just the US but other countries was incredible. I learned about their cultures and where they came from. I was 12th out of 16 athletes, but the last one on the course due to drop outs and DQs. I wasn't going to quit. You would have thought that I was winning the race in the way that people were cheering for me. People were leaning over the rail, chanting in waves of sound "Animal," "USA," and "Si, Se Puede."