Matt Gilmore likes being among the best. He likes being a team leader even better.
By Lex Mercado
Photos by Patty Morgan and Don Rich
After being the 2nd best man in PA last season in the 400 meter dash behind Altoona grad Brady Gehret, it may be easy to enter your senior year thinking that you will be the best in those events by default. But for this future Penn Stater (and teammate of Gehret), that thought never ever crossed his mind.
Cheltenham's Matt Gilmore knew who he was last season and that was the number two guy. He also knew that this season he was going to be the top guy. So there was a simple question to ask. Now that Gehret has graduated, how do you approach your final season being the top guy?
"One word. Humble," said the indoor 400 and 200 meter state champion. "I know I was looked at to be #1 all year and I was, but I learned how to be humble and how to keep the mindset that I can still be beat and to always train like I'm #2 trying to be #1."
That hard working mindset has kept Gilmore at the top of the state and among the country's elites in his main events, and makes him a big threat to end his high school career in grand style at District 1 and the state meet. However, getting to this moment in time wasn't as easy as just showing up to the track thinking that victory was a given.
Coming into his final season, his team had just graduated two star brothers who were big parts of their team and relay success, including a trip to the Championship of America 4x400 meter relay at the Penn Relays. With all that talent graduated, Gilmore's first challenge was to add extra responsibility to his already large plate.
"I want to be known as a leader," said Gilmore. "Not only do outsiders look at me, but my team does as well. With a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the team, they need guidance, and I'm that person. It's easy to be the senior and be cocky, but that's when you start slacking off and stop putting forth as much effort as necessary."
Gilmore also believes that his responsibility to the team is not just during practice and meets.
"As captain I'm someone they see on an everyday basis," said the PA#1 400 meter specialist. "If I'm skipping class and I'm always ineligible, then the young guys are going to follow my foot prints. I just act the way that I would want them to act if they were in my shoes."
Early on it looked like Gilmore was going to have very few bumps in the road in having a good senior year and leading his teammates to their own successes. But near the end of the winter, injuries crept in and made it difficult for the outdoor 400 meter runner-up to finish strong. After finishing the season, he had to cut out indoor nationals due to his injuries, something that made the early outdoor season a big struggle.
"The injury is day to day and gets better with time, but it is frustrating," noted Gilmore. "I'm supposed to be superior, but because of my injury I can't train as hard as I want to so I'm not as strong as I want to be. But with the season coming to an end, and with me falling behind on my training, I now have to run myself into shape."
For Gilmore, that has meant running three to four events per dual meet during the week as well as taking on that same load at a big invitational, where ideally coaches would want their runners to specialize in one event and get a strong time. This is on top of hard workouts when he's not competing.
Despite the difficulty of the spring season, Gilmore has risen to the occasion, recently running 48.11 at the May 5th Wissahickon Trojan Classic, which tops the state. Gimore added a 21.48 at the same meet (PA#2) and recently at his league championship, he won the 100, 200, and 400 meter dashes. With a 10.82 in the 100, his individual performances are all in the PA top five.
So how did he reach those marks?
He never got complacent. He heard the rumblings about his current team and what they can and can't do, as well as what Gilmore himself can or can't do.
"I have a huge drive to win, which is why I never slacked off while I was injured," said Gilmore. "I've seen seniors with good careers slack off and have bad senior seasons, but my drive to win wasn't going to let me do that."
Gilmore also felt that in his very competitive district, it's easy to be forgotten about as athletes, coaches and spectators see other athletes run fast times in his absence. With that as a motivating factor, Gilmore has made big splashes in the past few weeks, putting himself as one of the big favorites in ten days at Shippensburg.
"I guess people forgot how good I was when I was hurt. Many people said I can't come back, or that I'm not running the same, or that I don't look as strong and that I can be beaten. This has been my opportunity to remind people who I am and what I'm capable of doing. As the top guy, everyone is going to be looking at me and I have to be my best all the time, whether I'm healthy or not."
That attitude also applied to his team, especially after many felt that this season would not match the success the team had in 2010. Despite its youth and inexperience this season, Cheltenham has a PA#5 4x100 meter relay (42.65) and a PA#4 4x400 meter relay (3:19.84). Gilmore looks back at the early season where the pieces were put in place to get his young team ready to work hard and reach these heights of success.
"I told my young teammates that we had a legacy to uphold at Cheltenham High School," said the captain. "I wanted them to really work hard at practice and in meets because if they let up, that is when people can pass you."
With his leadership influencing the team and with his health improving, the last two weeks of the season will be something to watch. Gilmore is hoping to set lifetime bests in his big events and to leave a lasting legacy in PA.
"I want to be remembered as someone who never gave up and always put his team on his back no matter what the situation."
And he has the two biggest stages in PA remaining to leave that legacy.