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Matt Zuber: From Gazette Athlete of Year to USAF colonel with Ph.D.
Marengo native Matt Zuber’s athletic achievements at Iowa Valley were his foundation of a life of bigger things
Many former Gazette Athlete of the Year honorees went from high school to sports glories to more in college. A few even had noteworthy careers in the NFL, WNBA and Major League Baseball.
An overwhelming majority became accomplished, productive adults.
When Matt Zuber graduated from Marengo’s Iowa Valley High in 1985, he left with three individual state titles (400-meter low hurdles, 110 high hurdles, long jump) for a state-championship team, and our Athlete of the Year honor. It was just the beginning for him as a person.
He eventually became known as Dr. Zuber. And Col. Zuber.
“Nothing ever came easy for me. That’s where the athletic experience teaches you,” Zuber said last week from New Alexandria, Va., where he is an aerospace technology innovator for Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
“I wasn’t a jumper or a runner because I was talented. I was not talented. I just worked a lot harder than everybody else did, worked and worked out on weekends and nights, and was really disciplined. My mental game was so much better than most other people.
“It wasn’t an arrogant thing. It was just a confidence that I filled, starting with athletics. It really taught me hard work and discipline gets you to your realistic goals.
“You learn so much about yourself by being a student of a sport, and then that transfers into a lifetime of skills.”
Zuber was a decathlete at Arizona State, and continued to compete in track after he joined the U.S. Air Force. He won the decathlon at a U.S. Olympic Festival.
He earned a Ph.D. degree in engineering. He served in the Air Force for 25 years. an aerospace technology developer and researcher who retired as a colonel.
In 2017, Zuber joined APL, the nation’s largest university-affiliated research center.
“I help the U.S. government design, build, integrate and test future weapon systems as a program manager at JHU APL,” he said.
Zuber’s heart never left track and field,. He helps coach kids where he lives. He met his wife-to-be, from Sweden, at a track meet in Colorado Springs. She competed for LSU. They have three children who are young adults.
One of the two Class 2A state-meet marks Zuber set in 1985 fell this spring when Jack Latham of Spirit Lake won the 110 hurdles. Zuber’s state-meet record of 24 feet, 3 inches in the long jump got one more year when Southeast Polk junior Abu Sama was a quarter-inch shy.
Zuber sounded like he had no qualms about losing one of his spots in the state meet’s record book, and maybe the other next year.
“It’s nice to see,” he said. “Records are definitely meant to be broken.
“It’s always nice to get those awards and win competitions and medals. But even at a young age, I wasn’t driven by those things. I was really driven by doing my best, perfecting my skills, whatever those skills are.
“And chasing kind of perfection, whether it’s the 100 meters or the long jump, or if it’s to build weapons systems like I do right now for the government.”
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