April 16, 2012
By Anthony Alfano, Auburn Media Relations
This time last year, Alissa Fisher was spending most of her nights at the library while occasionally running triathlons.
Now, she is a junior walk-on cross country and track and field scorer, in one of the most difficult conferences in the country.
“I was a huge soccer player in high school, and then I switched to triathlons because I had a bunch of friends that were doing it,” Fisher said. “I liked running a lot, and I wondered what it would be like to run cross country.”
That curiosity continued to grow until her junior year, and it was her response to that curiosity that led to one of the most intriguing rookie campaigns seen by a walk-on in the Auburn track and field program in recent memory.
“I was sitting in my office last year, and she just appeared at the door,” Auburn assistant coach Mark Carroll said. “She said she was interested in walking on. She told me she was a triathlete, and as a distance coach that’s music to my ears, because triathletes typically have a very good base fitness level with the biking, swimming and running.”
Fisher was nervous walking on after going to an Auburn meet to check the team out.
“It was really hot when I went to talk to coach about the possibility of walking on,” Fisher said. “I was wearing jeans and a jacket. I made sure I had a lot of big clothes on, so he wouldn’t ask me to run on the spot.”
It was in the fall that Fisher’s talent began to be apparent to everyone who saw her run.
“In the fall in the workouts in cross country, right away you could see the way she covers ground so easily on a cross country course,” Carroll said. “It came very natural for Alissa. At that point I was thinking, wow this young lady has some talent.”
After placing in the top 10 four times with a win at Florida State, Carroll knew he had a star in the making.
“Every time she puts the spikes on she gets faster and faster,” Carroll said. “It’s been one race after the other she just keeps getting faster and faster.”
With the lack of experience that Fisher has, she is running on pure athletic ability at this point.
“She doesn’t even know how good she can be,” Auburn head coach Ralph Spry said. “What you see in her is just the tip of the iceberg. She’s got a real bright future here at Auburn.”
So why did she wait until her junior year to walk on? For Fisher it meant deciding which sport to pursue.
“My freshman year, I was still huge into soccer, so in my mind I was still trying to walk-on to the Auburn soccer team,” Fisher said. “I was playing club, and then soccer just kind of faded in my mind as I switched into triathlons.”
Her sophomore year, her interests in triathlons grew.
“My sophomore year I was just kind of doing school and having fun, and then I just decided I wanted to really be good at triathlon and running,” Fisher said. “A lot of the people on the triathlon team are mostly graduates that had played a sport, either swimming or running in college.”
It was her triathlon teammates that convinced her to try and walk-on for Auburn’s cross country and track teams, and it’s a good thing they did.
“They just said to me ‘you know try it and see if you like it. You may like it, and if you don’t, you’re a walk-on and you can just quit and come back to us,’” Fisher said. “I told my teammates okay I’ll do it.”
Adjusting from being a regular student to a student-athlete has been a hard transition for Fisher.
“My major is physics and math, and it’s really hard,” Fisher said. “Last year I probably spent six to seven hours a day studying. This year if I can get in three or four that’s a good day. I need to be studying six. It’s really hard in that aspect, because I need to be studying a lot longer than I am.”
Being that everything is new to Fisher, every season brings forth new challenges.
“In cross country [the biggest challenge] was definitely time management,” Fisher said. “Then in indoor with the shorter races, that was probably more of a mental thing. That was really difficult learning how to race.”
Fisher learned quickly the true competitive nature of running in the SEC.
“In high school, girls weren’t mean,” Fisher said. “The SEC is a huge eye opener because you had to watch out and use your elbows. People would yell at you and cleat you. I thought runners were supposed to be really nice people. But they weren’t, so I kind of got pushed to the outside of the track because I didn’t want to do all of that. That was a huge challenge. Then the 10K, that was just hard.”
In her first year, Fisher has leaned heavily on the guidance of her distance coach.
“I learned so much from Coach Carroll,” Fisher said. “I didn’t realize how technical running was.”
Fisher recalls when she was first training that she didn’t think it was a workout unless she was dying at the end.
“Pacing is definitely the thing, because the first time I did intervals I would just go as fast as I could, and then just try and hang on,” Fisher said. “Coach Carroll taught me to pace myself through workouts.”
Through practice, Fisher as a rookie, has put together an impressive season.
Fisher finished sixth in her first collegiate 5K and scored three points for Auburn at the SEC Indoor Championships. Her time of 16:38.46 is the fifth-fastest mark in Auburn history.
“Every time I watch her run it’s a lot of fun knowing that she’s just learning,” Spry said. “She’s got so much room to mature and develop, because we have the resources and environment to get her there.”
In outdoor there is no 3K. There is the 5K, 10K and the steeplechase.
“What we have to do now is select two events that we feel she’ll have the greatest impact in,” Carroll said. “We’ll figure that out in the coming weeks.”
Just a year ago, Fisher was an undiscovered talent, and now she is competing for Auburn in the toughest conference in the country and is part of a team that is ranked in the top 20 nationally.
“It does feel weird looking back at where I was last year with pulling all-nighters at the library almost every single night and studying with school being my life,” Fisher said. “I haven’t even been running a year yet. I know I shouldn’t be looking this far forward, but the 10K next year I’m going to kill it. I’m getting excited just talking about it.”
Her coaches share the same enthusiasm.
“I’ve been coaching here fifteen years, before that I coached five years, three at Florida, and two at the University of South Carolina,” Spry said. “Over those twenty years I bet there are only a handful of kids that walked on that could actually help you.”
Fisher is one of that handful and with her competitive spirit and work ethic, the sky is the limit for the Huntsville, Ala. native.
“She’s been a breath of fresh air, the nicest girl you’ll meet and a fierce competitor,” Spry said. “She’s a genuine, good, hard-working person, good student, good athlete and the kind of person that does what you ask them to do. Those are the kind of kids that make this job easy. She’s has a real bright future here at Auburn. ”