Mike Torchia doesn’t say much, and his coach knows not much needs to be said to him, but both quietly understand Torchia’s 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? He’s transformed from just one of the flock, to a symbolic shepherd for a team that craves veteran presence.
“Mike is an extremely intelligent guy,” head coach Steve Plasencia said, “I don’t have to say too much to him…By the time guys become seniors, they understand the way things are done.”
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.
“The kids are all pretty mature for their age so there’s not much need to keep the younger kids in line,” Torchia said, “I just go by the cliché to ‘lead by example,’ not by saying things.”
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.
“Antonio had a very quiet way of doing things,” Torchia said, “He had this demeanor about him that was very serious as soon as practice started.”
That demeanor apparently rubbed off, as Torchia now embraces his role as a senior leader with a “no big deal” kind of attitude.
“Leadership is just something that naturally arises with getting older,” he said. “…I’m in a position where I need to step up, but it’s easy for me to do the right thing when everyone around here is doing the right thing as well.”
As he prepares for his final season with the Gophers, Torchia also has an eye toward his future – and plans to attend medical school upon completion of his collegiate career.
Torchia graduated last spring with a degree in Biochemistry, and was the University’s nominee for Rhodes Scholar – 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 “running paradise”.
“Out my back door there was 30 miles of running trails,” 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 “short list” that includes Minnesota, Stanford, University of Washington, Duke, Georgetown and Dartmouth.
Plasencia admitted that he’s 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.
“I think it’s going to be necessary for me to continue to run in medical school in order to stay sane,” he joked.
Whether it’s 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.