From Navy Search & Rescue to UT Tyler Cross Country

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Matthew Cecotti will compete at his first American Southwest Conference Cross Country Championship on Saturday as a UT Tyler freshman, but also as a runner who spent the past four years as a Navy Search and Rescue Swimmer.

A Lindale native who graduated high school in 2012, Cecotti joined the Navy in 2013 and was stationed in Roda, Spain and Jacksonville, Florida on the USS Carney. He had three deployments to the coast of Syria and Libya where he was constantly on call for search and rescues, along with sitting in a “cold, dark room” watching radar. He said his experiences in the Navy taught him patience and mental toughness that he uses in his training now as a member of the UT Tyler Cross Country team.

“I know I’ve been through harder things and times so training for cross country isn’t that hard,” Cecotti said. “I wouldn’t say that I was in life-threatening situations, but there were times while I was in the Navy that I felt threatened. When I’m running and in some pain, I think back to that and it helps push me through. It’s completely different but I think it’s made me tougher mentally and makes me a better runner.”

Cecotti’s experience in the Navy took him all over the globe, including Spain, Germany, Portugal, Bahrain, Greece, Romania, France and Monaco before he decided to return to school to pursue a kinesiology degree and also return to running. His return to competition has been successful, with him leading the Patriots in two of the five meets this season leading into Saturday’s 8K at Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock. He’s coming off finishing eighth overall with an 8K time of 27:15.91 at the Mississippi College Invitational and also led the team with a 27:45.4 time at the Rhodes College Classic.

“I wasn’t satisfied with how I finished in high school and wanted to pursue it further,” said Cecotti about why he wanted return to cross country after serving in the Navy. “I knew it was going to be a challenge after four years but I’m willing to work hard and put in what it takes to be ready. I wanted to see if I could get better. I was into swimming during those four years without much running. I’d go for months without being able to run being out there on a ship. Once I started running again this summer, I had some small injuries and setbacks. Getting back into it was really hard but I’m glad I’m here.”

Cecotti’s first race back was the UT Tyler King Campbell Spectacular where he ran a 10:45 and finished third behind his teammates Will McIlroy (10:41) and Justin Tokuz (10:41.99) on a two-mile course. The next week he was 10th at the UT Tyler Braveheart Invitational before the team traveled to Tennessee and he led the team at the Rhodes event. His coach sees him improving every day in training and is impressed with his determination in meets. 

“Matthew leads with quiet fury,” UT Tyler coach Bob Hepler said. “He is disciplined and is one of the mentally toughest individuals in the world. He’s on my team for the Zombie Apocalypse. He runs well because he listens to his coach and follows the race plan. He is simply one of the finest people I have ever coached.”

Now, as a freshman, Cecotti will look to help lead UT Tyler to its eighth straight ASC Championship and the 12th overall title in program history.

“I’d like to win it but it’s going to be a hard one,” Cecotti said. “It’s going to be a race where I’m going to have to stay patient and chase them down at the end.”