About this time eight years ago, the Middlebury cross country coach emailed me that Michael Schmidt, a freshman on the team, would host me when I visited. The baseball nerd in me thought this was a hoot. Mike Schmidt?! The Hall-Of-Fame third baseman for the Phillies?! 548 career home runs, but who’s counting?! When I met the Middlebury Michael Schmidt, I learned that no one calls him Michael or even Mike. He’s Schmidty or Schmidt Face. Schmidty was then an 18-year old Chicago native who wore Cubs’ flip-flops year-round. He’s now a 26-year old Chicago native who wears Cubs’ flip-flops year-round.
Schmidty sold me on Midd—not because of the running so much (although I was over the moon to join the team) but because he’s just a fun, thoughtful dude. In my 24 hours with him, he introduced me to practically everyone in his dorm (even people he didn’t know) and went out of his way to make sure I saw Game 7 of the ALCS (Sox-Rays 2008….). His room was a Jackson Pollock of runner essentials: open jars of chunky peanut butter all over the floor; wet towels inadvertently serving as his rug; prodigiously and perpetually stanky and soggy short-shorts hanging on his bedposts. He replaced his pillow with a life-sized, snuggly, Middlebury panther stuffed animal and invited people over to watch movies if they could wade through the swamp. (Side note: I’ve seen more movies with Schmidty than anyone. He’s really the ultimate movie pal: he has Roger Ebert’s knowledge and Jimmy Fallon’s giddy enthusiasm).
I went to Midd, ran a bit, and got injured a lot. It sucked, but I surrounded myself with Schmidty and Schmidty-inspired hooligans to distract myself. There was the time we went to San Diego for our training trip and spent most of our day-off at Disney Land, taking goofy pictures with Cinderella’s evil step sisters and going on the tea cup ride about seven too many times. There was the time I was eating at the Original Pancake House in Denver and texted Schmidty because it’s his favorite chain restaurant in the world. He texted back a minute later asking if I was eating at their Greenwood Village or Fort Collins location; he had never been to Colorado but just really liked their pancakes—and knew all their locations. There was the time—every year—where Schmidty hosts a Christmas party and invites about 80 too many people because he’s just so damn excited about Christmas and so damn excited to see all his friends in one place (and so damn excited to wave mistletoe over anything and anyone).
Schmidty’s a lot of things. He’s the most accomplished distance runner in Middlebury (and arguably our conference) history—a six-time All American who graduated in 2012 with our conference records in the 5k and 10k. He’s the sixth fastest 10k runner in NCAA D3 history. He won our conference XC championship after losing his right shoe with three miles left in the race. He was a film-psychology double major who wrote his entire senior thesis the night before it was due (after several daddy sodas). He’s the Tufts cross country coach by day and the Michael Jordan of bar trivia by night. Schmidty looks and acts like your loyal golden retriever: always a bit tired, always happy to play.
He’s also a creative hero of mine—even though I don’t think he considers himself creative. He finds what he likes, knows what he likes, likes what he likes, shares what he likes, and celebrates what he likes. As an artist, you soak it all in then start to develop your authentic taste and, in turn, your voice. Discovering what you really like is half the battle.
What the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves. They’re entirely themselves, they’ve got their own vision, they have their own way of fracturing reality, and if it’s authentic and true, you will feel it in your nerve endings.–David Foster Wallace