Last month, in his final act as a high school athlete, Grant Fisher donned a resplendent tuxedo, shiny black dress shoes and his trademark smile for a walk down the ESPY Awards Red Carpet.
For Fisher, it’s the second straight year he has basked in the Hollywood experience; one bestowed on the six nominees for the Gatorade High School Male Athlete of the Year.
Despite all the distance-running achievements and accolades Fisher has piled up at a dizzying pace, it’s easy to forget the remarkable transformation that brought the Grand Blanc High School graduate to this point.
Grant Fisher, as a high school freshman, was hardly a candidate to become the fourth-fastest high school miler ever, win nine state and national championships, and be the nation’s top college distance-running recruiting target. He was not even the top runner on his own high school cross-country team, and was, as he puts it, “demolished” in the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs at the 2012 state meet. Back then, soccer – not running – was Fisher’s favorite sport.
He developed a passion for the game at age four in his native city, Calgary, Alberta shortly before the family moved to Grand Blanc.
By the time he reached his teens, Grant was playing for the elite Michigan Wolves program.
“I didn’t start competitive running until a group of my friends joined the seventh-grade cross-country team and I decided to join them, mostly to develop better soccer fitness,” he recalls. “That went fairly well, so I ran track too, and repeated that in eighth grade. I enjoyed it, but my training was minimal and I would complain if we had to run more than like, two miles in practice.”
Still, finishing only 19th in the 3,200-meter race and 13th in the 1,600-meter race at the state meet as a freshman struck a nerve with Fisher’s fierce competitive nature.
“After those races, I was not happy and started to take running more seriously,” he says. “That summer, I started running more to prepare for the next cross-country and track seasons.” To that end, he began working more closely with a renowned coach in the area, Mike Scannell, an old track and cross-country teammate of Fisher’s father, Dan, at Arizona State University. His father also competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Trials marathons.
”I’ve known Coach Scannell since I was little because he is a close family friend, and he was kind of an advisor to me after I started running, but I really saw results after I started training with him on a regular basis,” Fisher says. “He brings out the best in me and has shown me the importance of goal-setting and having a plan going into a race. Above all, he stresses having fun and enjoying all aspects of running.”
Scannell, a Tempe, AZ native, and native Canadian Dan Fisher wound up in the same town when Scannell was hired in 2000 by another Arizona State friend to run a Flint manufacturing company. A year later, he was looking for a national sales manager and offered Dan Fisher the job.
Little did Scannell know, he was now coaching the nation’s future top distance runner. “At that time, soccer was Grant’s priority and he was nothing special in terms of running,” Scannell says. “Honestly, I didn’t think much of it at all then, but what makes Grant special is his mental focus and his response to physical training. Neither of those were apparent when I first saw him run. However, those were developed over time.”
Faster times were actually developed relatively quickly. About two weeks into his sophomore season, Fisher lowered his personal-best for the cross-country distance (five kilometers) to 16:08, down from the 16:14 he ran in finishing 44th at the state meet the previous year.
He again lowered his best to 15:42 a few weeks later, and was poised for a far better showing at the state meet, before opting to skip the meet to play for Grand Blanc in the Division 1 state soccer championship game the same day.
However, Grant did place 20th in the Foot Locker National Meet at 15:24 – and never lost another high school cross-country race. On the track, he went from demolished to dominant, winning the first of three 3,200 state championships and placing second in the 1,600-meter race.
“Workouts with Coach Scannell prepared me,” he says. “We would do things like run 800 meters fast, jog for 100, and then run hard for 300 before jogging 100 and starting another fast 800. That really developed strength in me and a strong finishing kick.”
During the summer, Fisher placed ninth in the 1,500-meter race at the World Youth Championships before winning the first of two Division 1 state cross-country championships in the fall of 2013, and the first of two Foot Locker National titles. He won the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter races at the state track meet as a junior, won the first of two Adidas Dream Mile races in New York City, placed second in the United States Junior Championships 1,500, and competed in the World Junior Championships. As a senior, he lowered his best to 14:43 and was named National High School Runner of the Year for the second time.
Fisher’s final high school track season was easily his finest. He blazed to a time of 3:42.89 in a 1,500-meter race in California, the fourth-fastest high school performance of all time. He won the 1,600-meter race (at a state-record of 4:00.28) and the 3,200-meter race at the state meet again before cementing his place among the all-time greats on June 4 in St. Louis.
There, Grant dipped under four minutes for the mile, crossing the line at third place at 3:59.38. ”I was in really good shape going into the race and running fast times, so I felt ready,” he says. “I needed faster guys to run with and they pulled along well, the pace picked up in the second half. I finished, checked the clock and then – wow – what an awesome moment to achieve something I had worked so hard for. A big crowd was going nuts and I was still talking to people on the infield about an hour after the race. Amazing.”
Fisher followed by winning the Dream Mile again and placing third at the National Junior Championships.
“A big reason Grant has improved is because he has never missed a scheduled practice – ever,” Scannell said. “Did I say ever? Improvement is a slow process that happens over time.”
Although never pushed into running, Fisher’s bloodlines certainly indicated he would be a natural. Paternal grandfather, Allan Fisher, finished fourth at the 1952 NCAA Championships in the 5,000-meter race. Grant’s father was an All-PAC-10 cross-country runner for Arizona State and ran the 5,000 and 10,000 in track. Mother, Sonia, was a middle-distance runner at the University of Houston.
Grant Fisher’s college career begins this month at Stanford, where he will run cross-country and track. His first collegiate competition should be a cross-country meet on September 12.
“Stanford is the perfect place for me, and I am really excited about working with the team and coach and the atmosphere there really sets it apart,” he says. “The biggest thing will be adjusting to longer cross-country races at 8K (five miles) and 10K (6.2 miles).”
Stanford track and cross-country coach, Chris Miltenberg, will now need to replace two of last year’s top seven runners.
“As much as Grant has accomplished, he has incredible potential to develop into one of the best in the country at the NCAA level,” said Miltenberg, after Fisher signed in November. “There is enormous room for growth.”
It appears Fisher’s transformation is far from finished.
Photography by Mike Naddeo