Former walk-on runs past opponents

Ryan Schuster

Three words adorn the top of the bulletin board in the men’s cross country and track locker room — desire, determination and integrity.
Gophers senior runner Tony Riter exemplifies all three.
In his three years at Minnesota, and two years running cross country, he has been a role model on the course and off.
“Tony is a very dedicated guy,” men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia said. “For high school kids, watching him shows that if you stick to the task, good things can happen.”
Riter has been the Gophers No. 3 runner this fall, after suffering a sprained ankle last season that plateaued his progress. In addition to his own success in cross country, he has also managed to push his teammates to new running heights.
“I try to lead by example,” Riter said. “I like to try to motivate guys and carry them through our team workouts.”
But things haven’t always been so easy for Riter.
The graduate of Mounds View High School redshirted the 1993 cross country and 1994 track seasons during his freshman year after walking-on to both teams.
“It was hard at times, but I think that both me and coach (Roy) Griak agreed that redshirting was the best thing for me to do my freshman year,” Riter said. “The hardest part was living with Rick (Obleman) and seeing him go off and run while I had to stay home.”
Riter spurned several scholarship offers from Division II schools to walk-on at Minnesota under Griak. Last year Riter’s gamble paid off. He was awarded a partial scholarship to run both cross country and track at Minnesota.
He was a three-year letterwinner in cross country at Mounds View, earning all-conference honors his last two seasons and all-state accolades as a senior.
After coming to Minnesota and earning a scholarship, Riter has flourished under Plasencia.
“Coach Plasencia has a lot of similar training techniques as my high school coaches,” Riter said. “It has been easier than my initial transition with Griak my freshman year.”
So far this season Riter has taken second on the team once, third twice and fourth once in the Gophers four competitions. His best 8,000-meter time of the year was a 25-minute, 44-second performance on Sept. 28 at the Roy Griak Invitational. At that meet, he beat out Obleman, who has been his roommate the last four years.
“I’ve lived with the kid since freshman year,” Obleman said. “He doesn’t give up, and he’s a dedicated, hard worker. He expects everyone else to work hard too, and speaks up when things aren’t rolling.”
Riter has shown tremendous improvement over his career with the Gophers, overcoming several obstacles.
“He’s started to believe in himself when he didn’t before,” Griak said. “He has more confidence now. I can see it in his eyes when he runs.”
That confidence and determination shows through on race days.
The tall, lanky runner prepares for cross country meets by listening to loud music on his headphones. About an hour before each race, Riter can be seen silently jamming to tunes by Cypress Hill and Offspring.
“I started using them in high school for focusing before I ran,” Riter said. “It helps to block everything else out. I try to get my adrenaline flowing and listen to something that’s going to get me hyper and tuned up.”
Whatever he’s doing seems to be working.
The 21-year old from Shoreview, Minn., took 77th at the District IV Cross Country Championships last season. He also took 41st place at the 1995 Big Ten Championships with a time of 26:05.
Riter has also excelled outside of running at Minnesota. The 1994 scholar-athlete award winner is applying to dental school this fall. He also understands the importance of academics to athletes.
“School is definitely more important than running,” Riter said. “That’s what we’re here for. It’s important not to lose sight of what is really important.”
And when Riter thinks about what’s truly important, three words come to mind — desire, determination and integrity.