Matt Baxter has already done a lot with his life—moved halfway across the world, won a national championship or two. Now he can add author to the list. Baxter, a 2018 graduate from New Plymouth, New Zealand, and part of NAU’s cross country dynasty, co-authored Running Up the Mountain, released this fall, with former Lumberjack athlete and coach Ron Mann. He talks to The NAU Review about the book, his experiences as a Lumberjack and his life since graduating.
What brought you to NAU?
I came to NAU to compete for the track and field cross country program and to continue my studies in criminology. I had never been to the U.S. before, and I knew little about NAU or Flagstaff. It was a leap of faith that got me here in the spring of 2016. Thankfully, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
What was the highlight of your time as a Lumberjack?
Getting second as an individual at the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championships while our team won the national title. This was the second team title I was a part of, and it was my best individual placing during my time as a Lumberjack.
How did it feel to be part of such a running dynasty?
I feel privileged to have been on the team when I was. There were a lot of athletes who came before me who helped set this team up for success. I was lucky to come in right when all the stars were aligning and we began our first streak of national titles. Running for NAU was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am so proud of what the team has accomplished.
Tell me about the book.
Running Up the Mountain begins in 1964 with Red Haberlack moving to Flagstaff to coach the NAU track and field program. There was little interest in Flagstaff as a training site at that time, until the 1968 Olympics were awarded to Mexico City, located above 7,000 feet. The desire among athletes to train at altitude grew. In the decades that followed, the NAU program saw a steady rise in national prominence, while the city became an Olympic training site. This was all threatened when coaching changes shook up the NAU program and the financial crisis challenged the work put in to make Flagstaff a desirable place to train. In the end, a strong team culture and dedicated coaches helped the NAU program stay on course to continue their rise toward the ultimate goal of becoming national champions.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
The idea came from Ron Mann. He was an athlete at NAU from 1968-72 and coach from 1980-2004. He wanted to put this book together before the stories were lost. I was put in contact with Ron because of my knowledge of the current NAU teams and my writing experience.
What was the hardest part of writing it?
The time commitment it took to put this together was the most difficult part. I knew it was going to be a big process. I didn’t think it would take two-and-a-half years. I knew little about the history of the NAU program and running in Flagstaff. There was a lot of research I had to do to catch myself up on the topic I was writing about.
Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.
When I was 14, I was disqualified from the race when I won my first national title. This fueled the fire for me to excel at running in high school, which helped me get into NAU and eventually run professionally for HOKA Northern Arizona Elite.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
Since I was nine years old, I wanted to be a police officer. I always thought it would be an enjoyable and rewarding profession. Even as my running pushed me in a different direction, I was still able to feel close to that field of work through studying criminology.
What is your favorite way to spend a day off?
I love spending time with my partner, Emily, and our three-year-old son. Playing with my son at a playground or kicking a ball around with him is always fun.
What are three things on your bucket list?
Break the New Zealand marathon record, travel all around New Zealand and run at the Olympics.