While other track and field stars were trying out for spots to represent their nation at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Rob Muzzio was in a hospital bed. The 1982 Robinson grad was fighting a severe asthma attack.
"He was the master of a bad break," said former Lake Braddock track and field coach, Bob Digby.
Muzzio did not give up despite the severe attack. Instead, in 1985 he went on to defend his 1984 NCAA Decathlon title, becoming the first - and so far the only - decathlete to ever win NCAA Division I titles back-to-back. Muzzio is still the youngest NCAA Division I Decathlete Champion, winning his 1984 title at the age of 19.
"When you are doing something you really love to do, there is something inside of you that really makes you keep going, especially when you know you still have more potential," said Muzzio.
The asthma attack was not the only difficulty Muzzio had to overcome during his career. In December of 1987, Muzzio had an open knee surgery to repair a torn patella tendon in his left knee. He returned to competition in 1990, setting high scores and slowly nearing his personal bests. In 1991 in Tokyo he qualified for the second of three - the first decathlete in U.S. history to qualify for three - World Championships. While going for a run in Tokyo, Muzzio broke his nose when he ran into an awning. He recovered and qualified for the Barcelona Olympic games in 1992.
"Experiencing being a part of the Olympic games in Barcelona, that is certainly something I will never forget," said Muzzio. He placed fifth in the Barcelona games.
MUZZIO TOOK INTEREST IN TRACK and field in eighth grade gym class. He said he had fun throwing the discus and the shot put. However, when he began his high school competition, Muzzio said it did not appear he would get big enough to really compete in those events. He said his coach at Robinson, Maynard Heins, saw the potential in Muzzio, so he began to teach him proper technique for different events. He said Muzzio would have to do all of the events, not just one.
However, Muzzio went on to win state and other titles as a discus thrower. He won the Virginia State Outdoor discus titles in 1981 and 1982. In 1981 he became a National Junior Olympic Discus Champion and in 1982 he won the Dogwood Relays Discus Championship. That same year, Muzzio became the U.S. Junior National Decathlon Champion in Indiana, and then a Junior Pan American Games Decathlon Champion - setting the new record for the championship - in Venezuela.
"He could throw the discus from one side of the track to another. He is the reason they put fences up around the tracks," said Digby.
During his time at Robinson, Muzzio was not just a standout track and field athlete, he was also a star football player. The defensive end earned all-region and all-state honors his senior year. He had attracted interest from many colleges for his football skills, including perennial power houses Penn State and Notre Dame.
"It was a big decision for me what to pursue in college, football or track," said Muzzio.
The current Robinson football coach, Mark Bendorf, was an assistant coach at Mt. Vernon at the time Muzzio played for Robinson. Bendorf said Muzzio had a stellar senior year, and based on that attracted the attention of many people. "I went to watch Robinson play Fort Hunt, and he was absolutely all over the field," said Bendorf. He said Muzzio sent a couple of the Ft. Hunt players to the hospital. "He was very mobile and had very good instincts," said Bendorf.
AS HISTORY AND MULTIPLE championships would tell, Muzzio chose the track route at George Mason University. One of the reasons he chose track was the chance to compete at the Olympics. At GMU he trained under the guidance of coach Don Seemuller.
Muzzio's second NCAA title is in itself something he accomplished against the odds. Not only had winning back-to-back NCAA Division I Decathlon titles never been done before, but Muzzio trailed by 175 points going into the last event of the meet. Everyone had written him off, and even Muzzio himself thought it was impossible to win the title that day.
"I dug back to my Robinson days and let go. I let my body do what it was capable of doing," said Muzzio.
He ran the 1,500-meter run in 4 minutes and 23.64 seconds, earning him 787 points, for a total of 7,964 points. He beat out the competition by five points to win the title.
Seemuller and Muzzio would work together again long after Muzzio was done with college competition. He credits Seemuller for helping him get to the Barcelona Olympics.
He said decathlon training is a full-time job, because the athlete trains for a lot of different events and there are many different aspects to training. He said he would spend up to eight hours per day switching between technique and strength training among other aspects.
BESIDES THE BARCELONA experience, Muzzio said he has had many memorable moments. He said one of the most memorable experiences is the third world championship he participated in, in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1993. There, he set his personal record of 8,237 points. Muzzio once again defined the odds, and this time did not let age influence his ability, setting his personal best when he was 30-years-old. He said he could not have done it without the help of coach Greg Petrosian.
A former Soviet long jumper, Petrosian said his job was to help Muzzio improve a little on his past scores. He said he combined the two systems, one learned in his Soviet past and one Muzzio was using to train, and geared to Muzzio's needs. "He had the ability to work hard on a consistent basis," said Petrosian. "He never gave up and he always built his success from his best events."
Muzzio said Germany was also memorable because of the fans who attended the meet. He said people would recognize the decathletes on the streets, and that it was among the most followed sports there. He said at one point he heard 60,000 people clapping in unison, and it was an experience he will never forget.
MUZZIO REMAINS ACTIVE in the community. He can be seen talking to younger athletes and helping them overcome whatever issues they may have. "I grew up with severe asthma," he said, "but it's not just asthma, you can control things [whatever the condition may be] so they don't hold you back from achieving dreams," said Muzzio. He said he often encounters young athletes who are intimidated. The message he has for them is to work hard and to let the competition take its course.
"You spend all this time training to prepare for the competition. Once you get there, let your body do what you have been training it to do," said Muzzio.
He recommends that young athletes enjoy the competition, and use it as a way to get "pumped up" instead of intimidated. "Don't let [your mind] stop you from doing what you want to do," said Muzzio.
Recently, Muzzio's son, entering eighth grade, qualified for the national championship in high jumping, in only his first year of competition. Muzzio said his son picked up the sport on his own, and fell in love with it. He also plays football and swims. His daughter is also a three-sport athlete. Muzzio, his wife, and their two children live in the area. He helps companies write proposals for federal contracts.
Rob Muzzio is 7 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.