BILLINGS — Isaac Petsch can look at his Rocky Mountain College career two ways. On the one hand, he brought the Battlin’ Bears to new heights.
“He has changed the whole ideal of our program," said Mike McLean, Rocky's head track and field and cross county coach. "He has shown the kids how to work harder. The kids follow him, the recruits come in and want to meet Isaac Petsch.”
But on the other hand, the most decorated runner in program history won’t get his curtain call.
“A six-time All-American, three-time all-conference in cross country, and it just stops," McLean said of the NAIA outdoor track and field season being canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Petsch is one of thousands of college athletes across the country who won’t get to compete in their final season. Of course he’s disappointed, but the past few weeks have provided one thing: perspective, on a journey that few saw coming.
“Yes, I’d say I have surprised myself," Petsch said. "I remember my first nationals I was on a relay and wasn’t sure if I was able to compete on an individual level.”
“It surprised me in cross country," McLean said. "He wasn’t a cross country lover at three miles, 5K in high school, and now he runs at 8K, basically five miles, and he’s broken 25 minutes for that.”
“I never thought I would run as fast as I did in cross country, especially after high school," Petsch added. "I was definitely more of a track guy. But that was a huge milestone for me.”
He gives a lot of the credit to older brother Fred.
“Fred is probably the reason I got into distance running. I was always a sprinter, and coming into my freshman year I decided to try out cross country instead of football, which I had always done," Isaac Petsch said.
“We had an indoor championship, national championship in Johnson City, Tennessee, and Fred led off in the 4x800 relay and ran great - basically embarrassed the kid, he’s that fast," said McLean, recalling his favorite story about the brothers' time together in green and gold. "Isaac gets the baton, as soon as Isaac hands the baton off after the segment, I knew we were going to finals.”
Little did they know, that baton passing was not just literal - it also started Isaac and Rocky’s ascension.
“Back five or more years ago, having an All-American was extremely rare for Rocky, and now we have several every season, which is very exciting," Petsch said.
The fifth-year senior will graduate next month with a double major in art and computer science and no doubt start his next career. As for running, the former Montana Mile winner isn't quite sure when he'll compete again, though one last shot in the Big Sky State Games opening ceremony race might be too much to pass up.
“I’ll be training and based on how good of shape I’m in, I might join," Petsch hinted. "I hope so. I’d love to run it one last time.”
And get that curtain call he deserves.