Sept. 21, 2011
It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since the tragedy of Sept. 11. As we recall the events of that day, we remember the victims and their families and we salute our troops that willingly put their lives at risk for us every day. This unites our country, much like the way we as University of Minnesota students, alumni and fans come together as Golden Gophers.
Not only are we represented with alumni living and working throughout the United States, but the Gopher community extends all over the world. Former University of Minnesota gymnast Matt Altomari currently serves as a Marine in Afghanistan, but he maintains a strong connection to the U.
Matt began training for the Marine Corps in 2006, spending two summers in the Platoon Leaders Program before he graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
“The service that men and women have given back to our country is something I have always looked up to, and the challenge of the Marine Corps definitely excited me,” Altomari said. “After 9/11 happened, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
Altomari had originally planned on enlisting after finishing high school, but he decided to put it on hold because he couldn’t pass up his dream of competing on the Golden Gopher men’s gymnastics team.
He says his involvement in Gopher gymnastics played a large role in preparing him for the daily challenges he faces in the Marines. Altomari credits head coach Mike Burns and assistants Russ Fystrom and Kostya Kolesnikov for their continual support and encouragement. And the intense training that the team required helped him both physically and mentally, setting him up for success.
“I’ve always got a leg up on my peers when it comes to running through obstacles and being able to mentally push through the pain and keep going,” Altomari said. “I owe that to the coaching staff and their dedication to the student-athletes. The focus that the staff puts on academics and not just on athletic achievements has gone a long way for me.”
Altomari still keeps in contact with his coaches. In fact, Coach Burns recently shipped a package filled with Gopher gear to him. Matt is proud to be a member of the Gopher family and wears his maroon and gold every chance he gets. And he certainly isn’t afraid to boast about the University.
As part of his current assignment, he spends time on bases of other country’s military presence in Afghanistan. While visiting a Danish base, he met a soldier who informed him that his sister was moving to the United States to play college volleyball.
“Of course I immediately started talking a little trash, telling him the Gophers are consistently NCAA Championship contenders and that they’re the best women’s volleyball team in the country,” Altomari said. “Then he told me that she was going to be a Gopher. I almost didn’t believe him right away. I thought it was crazy that I traveled around the world and ran into someone from Denmark in Afghanistan with a sister who will be a fellow Gopher student-athlete.”
Altomari is currently a First Lieutenant. A large part of his job is meeting with government officials and speaking with local nationals about ways to better their futures. He also does work with non-government organizations to bring projects such as schools and medical outreach programs to the area.
While he is currently busy overseas, Altomari definitely plans on attending the annual alumni meet against the varsity team this year.
“I haven’t had much time to train, but I’ll be ready to get out there and give the team a run for their money,” Altomari said. “I know they’re training hard, but I’ve given them the warning that I don’t plan on letting the alumni’s win streak end just yet.”
-By Kim Conley, Athletic Communications Student Assistant