GETTYSBURG, Pa. – Competing on a collegiate team wasn’t on senior Luke Matzke’s (Collegeville, Pa./Malvern Prep) radar in high school, but running has taken on a new meaning since arriving at Gettysburg College and joining the cross country and track and field programs.
Matzke, who grew up on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pa., was an only child whose parents weren’t athletes. He didn’t play any sports until middle school.
“When I was younger, I hit my growth spurt early so I was a tall bigger kid,” said Matzke. “I remember in middle school a lot of guys asked me why I wasn’t playing on the football team. Then came freshman year and a lot more people joined the football team. I didn’t play at all and realized really fast that football wasn’t my thing.”
The following year Matzke traded his football cleats for a pair of running shoes as he took on a new sport, cross country. It took two of Matzke’s friends, who competed on the cross country team during their freshman year, to convince Matzke to go out for the team and give it a chance as a sophomore. According to Matzke, he was overweight and wasn’t in shape.
“I remember showing up on the first day feeling really out of place,” noted Matzke. “I kept doing it because it gave me something to do.”
During the summer heading into his junior year of high school, Matzke began training more seriously, lost weight, and started eating healthy. He concluded his junior and senior seasons by running on varsity and serving as the team’s captain.
Matzke wasn’t recruited by any schools to compete in cross country on the collegiate level, nor did he think he would. His mom, Beth Ritchey, is a 1985 Gettysburg College alumna but wasn’t the only alumni close by. His high school guidance counselor, Ian Harkness, also graduated from Gettysburg and worked in the admissions office before arriving at Malvern Prep. When the two met, Matzke told Harkness that he wanted to continue running in college even if it wasn’t on a team. Harkness suggested Matzke email the head cross country and track and field coach at Gettysburg, especially if he wanted to keep running.
“I reached out to Coach Shenk through email and thought it was a total shot in the dark,” said Matzke. “It was pretty cool that he accepted and welcomed me from day one.”
Matzke has been a three-year member of the Bullets cross country team. In his first two years, he competed in 10 races.
After finishing towards the back of the pack during his first two seasons, Matzke felt a fire growing within him in terms of training and he changed his mindset heading into his junior cross country season. He earned the men’s cross country and track and field team’s most improved award during the 2019 campaign when he saw action in eight of nine races, including the Centennial Conference Championship and NCAA Division III Mideast Regional. He set his 8,000-meter personal-record (PR) at the Paul Short Run, clocking 27:58.8.
“It was such a magically year, a great team vibe, and that goes from the captains to everyone else on the team,” said the two-time Centennial Conference Academic Honor Roll recipient. “If I have learned anything from my junior year, it is that anything is possible if you really put your head to it. I’m the ‘trust the process’ guy on the team.”
Through running, Matzke has grown in areas of mental, social, and nutritional well-being.
“Running has taught me what it means to have the work ethic to improve yourself,” said Matzke. “It completely changed my lifestyle and everything. The more you buy into it, the more you get out of it. Not just on an athletic scale but even mentally too. If I was annoyed before my run, I’m definitely not as annoyed when I get back. I have a calmer mindset.”
Nutrition has also played a role in Matzke’s life. When he was younger, the senior revealed that he ate junk food all the time, but has since changed his diet by becoming a vegetarian and started fueling his body with proper nutrition.
“Once I got to Gettysburg, I was serious about really trying to eat healthy,” noted Matzke. “If you want to keep going with running, you want to be putting in good fuel, that’s how you prolong your career.”
With the 2020 cross country season on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Matzke has taken a gap semester and will return to Gettysburg in the spring. He has been using the time away to serve as a volunteer coach at Malvern Prep and train for his upcoming seasons at Gettysburg. Matzke’s training includes running 80 miles a week with his down week being 65 miles. He is the highest mileage person on the team and remains in constant contact with his team through the Strava app, which tracks everyone’s running distance.
Over the summer, Matzke held an internship at Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pa. and will graduate from Gettysburg in December of 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and public policy.
This story was originally posted on the Gettysburg College Website.