Torchia quietly leading young Gophers squad

by Derek Wetmore

Mike Torchia doesnâÄôt say much, and his coach knows not much needs to be said to him, but both quietly understand TorchiaâÄôs importance as a leader for the young Gophers cross country team. Torchia started as a true freshman running for the Gophers five years ago, and many things have changed since then. One such change? HeâÄôs transformed from just one of the flock, to a symbolic shepherd for a team that craves veteran presence. âÄúMike is an extremely intelligent guy,âÄù head coach Steve Plasencia said, âÄúI donâÄôt have to say too much to himâĦBy the time guys become seniors, they understand the way things are done.âÄù Torchia has a quiet intelligence about him that would appear to make him well-suited for being one of the few front men on the team. However, he lacks the in-your-face drill sergeant persona common among those in charge of their peers. âÄúThe kids are all pretty mature for their age so thereâÄôs not much need to keep the younger kids in line,âÄù Torchia said, âÄúI just go by the cliché to âÄòlead by example,âÄô not by saying things.âÄù The Rochester-native learned the ropes of the program as a true freshman from then-fifth-year senior Antonio Vega, who had a successful career at Minnesota and went on to run professionally. Prior to his departure, Torchia picked up some leadership qualities by observing the elder runner. âÄúAntonio had a very quiet way of doing things,âÄù Torchia said, âÄúHe had this demeanor about him that was very serious as soon as practice started.âÄù That demeanor apparently rubbed off, as Torchia now embraces his role as a senior leader with a âÄúno big dealâÄù kind of attitude. âÄúLeadership is just something that naturally arises with getting older,âÄù he said. âÄúâĦIâÄôm in a position where I need to step up, but itâÄôs easy for me to do the right thing when everyone around here is doing the right thing as well.âÄù As he prepares for his final season with the Gophers, Torchia also has an eye toward his future âÄì and plans to attend medical school upon completion of his collegiate career. Torchia graduated last spring with a degree in Biochemistry, and was the UniversityâÄôs nominee for Rhodes Scholar âÄì a lofty accomplishment for any student-athlete. He spent the summer interning for Merck pharmaceutical company in New Hampshire where he said he worked with developing new drugs. He said, while there, he was in âÄúrunning paradiseâÄù. âÄúOut my back door there was 30 miles of running trails,âÄù Torchia said. There were also mountains on which to mountain bike and camp when he could get away from work and running. While there, he won a 16-kilometer Xterra Stoked Trail Run. He has narrowed possible post-graduate schools down to a âÄúshort listâÄù that includes Minnesota, Stanford, University of Washington, Duke, Georgetown and Dartmouth. Plasencia admitted that heâÄôs no expert on medical school admissions, but offered that Torchia should have success in his application process because of his intelligence and goal-oriented disposition. As for his running, he hopes to continue the sport for which he is passionate even when his life gets further complicated and increasingly hectic through medical school. âÄúI think itâÄôs going to be necessary for me to continue to run in medical school in order to stay sane,âÄù he joked. Whether itâÄôs professionally, semi-professionally, or an unattached bid for an Olympic qualifier some day, Mike Torchia is living in the here-and-now world of being a quiet leader, and improving the team simply with his presence.