The US-based Kiwi is one of the country’s leading endurance athletes, who last weekend posted a New Zealand 5000m Indoor record of 13:27.61 in Boston. Matt, 25, a former NCAA Cross Country silver medallist, is next up to answer our Twenty Questions.
Why did you start athletics?
I started to become more involved in athletics when I began high school. This was when I learnt about the team aspect to running and how this sport can be just as enjoyable as any other — if not more so.
What was the last piece of athletics advice you received?
Take risks. There have been countless races when I didn’t go with the pace because I am concerned about blowing up in the later stages of the race. However, I will never learn where my limits are if I don’t try to find them.
What has been your career highlight?
Definitely the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championships when I came second as an individual and our team won its second straight national title. I remember leaving the finishing tent to a crowd of support and thinking that my life would never quite be the same again.
What has been your athletics low?
At the back end of 2013 I developed some discomfort around my ankle. After an entire year of struggling with this injury an MRI finally confirmed that I had a 2cm tear in my peroneal tendon. I wanted to quit the sport on multiple occasions over this time.
Where do you see your athletics career ten years from now?
In 10 years I will be 35 and hopefully starting to wind down a long and exciting career. Running at a high level does not last forever, but I can see myself continuing to be very active within the running community even after my own career has ended.
What is your greatest mistake in athletics?
My greatest mistake has been focusing on the clock almost every time I line up for a race. This has hurt my chances of placing higher in major races because of focusing on the wrong thing. It does not always translate to fast times either.
Which athlete is the most interesting to follow on social media?
Probably myself. Check me out on Instagram @matthewrobertbaxter
Do you have a favourite athletics social media post?
I know this was very poor timing for Nick Willis, but when he got a late selection to Doha basically a week before the Championships, he put up a statement about why he declined this invitation. I really felt the line that said, ‘I am a week into my break already.’ That was a great line.
If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be and why?
Athletics is a very secretive sport. Athletes at a high level typically do not openly discuss their training, they race infrequently, and the average fan knows little more about the athletes than their personal bests. I would force the sport into the limelight where athletes have to be more open, with the intention of allowing fans to become more invested in their idols.
Which athlete do you most admire from your event?
A name that most of you won’t know but should know, is Tyler Day. He just ran 13:16 for the 5000m and cemented himself as one of the best collegiate distance runners ever. I grinded next to Tyler for three years at NAU and he is not only one of the kindest people you will meet, but he is also a fearless athlete.
Outside of athletics what is your greatest accomplishment this year?
In November I released a book that I had been working on for the better part of a year and a half. It follows my high school journey from a kid that didn’t like running to being one of the best high school runners that NZ had produced.
What was your most embarrassing moment in high school?
In 2008 at the NZ Secondary Schools Road Race I unintentionally cut a corner which saw me disqualified from the race after initially winning my first national title. I was later reinstated as first equal with the original second place finisher. You can read all about it in my book.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
I would be your everyday domestic house cat. Seems like a great life.
Do you have a nickname?
I have had many nicknames over the years. These include: Fat Baxter, Matt Backstabber, Meatball, Matt Backdoor, Team dad. No one nickname has really stuck though.
If you could have a superpower what would it be and why?
The ability to reverse the effects of climate change.
Where do you see yourself when you are 50?
I can see myself back in New Zealand working with athletes that are yet to be born.
What is the most ridiculous fact you know?
Up until 2016 it was illegal to host a potluck dinner in Arizona.
If you could change one thing in the world what would it be and why?
I would change the average level of tolerance to far exceed where it currently lies.
If you could host a talk show what three guests would you invite and why?
Eminem, Kevin Hart, and The Rock. I am a big fan of all three and I believe that if anyone could get Eminem to crack up laughing it would be Kevin Hart and The Rock’s banter.