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Over the Haste Cap: What keeps Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt hurdling raids?

You might imagine that an Olympic gold medalist and world record holder would take a competitive approach to gaming -- and in the case of hurdler Aries Merritt, you'd be absolutely right. Aries comes in over the haste cap both on the track and in Azeroth. Want to see how a true competitor tackles a game like World of Warcraft? Take a look at this guy's beastly activity feed: progression raiding, rep grinds, quest lines, rated battlegrounds, arena PvP, holiday events, maxed-out professions, pet battles, multiple characters at the level cap with more not far behind, farming, fishing -- even finding lore objects.

This guy takes his DPS parses as seriously as he takes his world records. He dashes it all off in a good-natured, down-to-earth manner that makes talking shop about shadow priests feel as natural as ticking down the to-do list of a phone interview. Aries lets us look into the life of an Olympian with a glimpse of how his competitive spirit propels his gaming hobby, including how he maintains his world-class winning edge and how he got through a potentially devastating injury with career-saving advice from a guildmate.

WoW Insider: One look at your character profile online, Aries, and it's obvious that you're really into WoW!

Aries Merritt: Actually, I have three 90s. My lock is 90, and my mage. My priest is my main, who's 90. And I have my 87 paladin I'm working on probably next, and then my druid. I'm probably going to try to get everything up to 90 eventually, but I'm kind of slowing it down a little bit (laughs) because I'm starting back training.

Over the Haste Cap What keeps Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt's troll running THUMain character Deconasia, troll shadow priest
Guild Ascent
Realm Thrall

WoW Insider: As a fellow priest, I appreciate that you're a troll priest! Are you an old-school troll from the classic days, or is your race a recent strategic choice?

Aries Merritt: Yeah, I went for the racial. I actually was a blood elf priest, from like back in Burning Crusade, and I went from blood elf to goblin as soon as that came out for the haste, because that's such a good racial. Now that I've hit the haste plateau, me having that haste is a DPS gain. It's more of a gain for me to be a troll, so I switched to troll for raiding so I can help us push content a little faster.

What's your raid role -- DPS or heals?

I'm DPS all the way. (laughs)

But I see a discipline spec in there ...

That is for when we're doing challenge modes. It's easier for me to be discipline and help out that way because they like to run a certain damage comp or whatever, which is fine. I can do everything, because I actually started off playing the game as a healer. I played holy for like two years before I switched to doing damage. And then I was like, "I like doing damage." (laughs) But I can do both specs equally well.

So give it to us straight, Aries: Are you as competitive in the game as you are on the track? Do you come at WoW with that same sort of mentality?

I do, I do. Every time we're doing bosses, I'm trying to come in #1 on damage. Just because of that competitive nature, I pretty much parse every weekend. Like when we kill bosses, I parse in the top 98th percentile, sometimes 100th percentile on boss kills for shadow priests. I do a lot of damage. I'm really pleased about that. I'm always trying to get better and find a way that I can min-max my gear so I can get the most out of my damage and help the raid try to kill these bosses.

Yeah, I'm very competitive. Even when I'm healing, I'm trying to be #1 on the meters. It's all about the meters.

So do you run a lot of spreadsheets and theorycrafting when you're not logged in?

No, I don't really do that. I go to what used to be Shadowpriest.com (now it's changed to Howtopriest.com), so I go there and read the forums and see what I need to do. Because somebody already does the work -- I just get ReforgeLite and just reforge all my gear to the required stat. The addon really helps a lot. So anyone could just be good by getting that addon -- you just need to know how you need to stack your toon.

Over the Haste Cap What keeps Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt's troll running THU
When did you start playing WoW?

I've been playing since Burning Crusade. My first toon was actually a mage, and it's funny because when I saw the little warlocks running around with pets, I was like "I want me a little pet!" and so then I rerolled a warlock. And I leveled my lock to 70 -- it was a blood elf lock -- and made it to 70 and I just couldn't get a group. I would go in trade, and they were like "Looking for healer" and "Looking for tank." I was like, "Oh my god! Maybe if I roll a healer or a healing class, maybe I can get a group faster." And so I rerolled priest. From that point on, it was so easy to get groups. I would just heal the dungeons and I would get gear. And at this point, I was healing full time, so I would just heal, heal, heal.

And then eventually, I got into a raiding guild -- just jokingly. I didn't think it was going to be anything serious. My friends were always like "Don't play World of Warcraft because it's going to ruin your life! Don't play World of Warcraft because you'll get addicted and you're not going to play any other games!" I used to play all kinds of console games with them.

And so I tried it out, and I loved it.

I got the impression that your guildmates know who you are in real life and what you're all about.

Yeah, that's true. All of them pretty much all of them know that I'm an Olympic gold medalist.

Over the Haste Cap What keeps Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt's troll running THU
Well, it's not always that way. About two years ago, I interviewed a silver medalist in swimming, and she preferred to stay completely undercover with her character in game. Do you play with any other fellow athletes, or is your WoW world essentially separate from your athletic world?

A lot of my friends who are professional athletes don't really play. But some of the people in my guild who are people like doctors and businessmen and businesswomen, they play and I've built relationships with them.

Actually, when I got injured one time back in 2010, one of the people in my guild [who's a] podiatrist, she actually helped me to run again. I couldn't run; I had a stress fracture and I need to get treatment. She helped me. She pretty much gave me the contact that I needed to nurse myself back to health so that I could run and even get Olympic gold.

It was pretty amazing that I met somebody like that in WoW. It has its positives, not just negatives. (laughs)

So how do things work as far as playing around your training and competition schedules?

Well when I'm training, I'm just training, so that's all I'm doing. Training is my full-time job. But when I'm in competition, which starts at the beginning of the year, then I'm not really traveling as much, because the indoor season is pretty much based in the U.S.

I don't really travel to Europe that often during the indoor season, but when it comes time for June, July and August and even sometimes into September, that's when I'm not online as much because I'm in Europe and ... it's hard to get the good connection over there ... without some kind of proxy.

How does that affect your raid participation? Do you get benched during those periods?

When I can play, they'll always invite me, because I think I'm an asset! (laughs) Obviously, I'll post on the guild forum if I'm not going to be able to make it. Kind of like a normal person, you know -- if I'm not going to be able to make it because of work, I'll let them know and they'll understand.

Especially when I'm in Europe, it's hard for me to be able to make it and to raid. Like this past summer, I didn't raid at all. During the Olympic Games, I did no raiding at all. And a lot of that was because Dragon Soul was so long that we had farmed Dragon Soul for months anyway. No one was doing anything. Everyone was waiting for MoP to come out.

I think by the time I start back competing we'll probably be at the end of the first tier. When I'm done running for the year, we'll probably be just beginning the second tier. It always works out like that -- like we're pretty much done with the first tier, and then when I stop running, we're pretty much on schedule for the second tier, so I don't really miss that much. A lot of the way the game is structured is you spend a lot of time grinding out the dungeon once you have it on farm for a while. And so you grind it out for three months and sometimes during three months, I don't even need to be there because we've already got it on farm. So it works out.

Over the Haste Cap What keeps Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt's troll running THU
When you're in training, do you find that WoW is more of a helpful distraction that helps you blow off some steam, or is it more of a hindering distraction that pulls you away from things you feel you should be focusing on?

It's kind of like a double-edged sword. There have been some cases where I've played too much, but there have been times when it's helped me escape reality. For example, when I lost my grandmother in 2008, I needed something to escape. WoW was my escape.

... But then when I came back to reality, I was like OK, I really need to refocus on what I want, and what I wanted to do was run. I love running. So I had to refocus on that, and I didn't let WoW go but I didn't play as much as I had in the previous year because I wasn't so depressed anymore and I was trying to get back on my feet with my career.

So it helps. And even now, it's a good distraction -- no, it's not a distraction. It's something that I do to keep myself out of trouble, because if you're playing WoW, you're online with friends and really not doing much of anything. So you really can't get yourself into much trouble playing WoW. (laughs)

Give us a peek at your off-track life beyond World of Warcraft. What else do you enjoy doing?

When I'm not raiding, I'm doing a lot of community service. If I'm not doing community service, I'm coaching kids. I love coaching kids and just to give back to the community in that way. It's awesome. Sometimes I coach the collegiates, because I'm volunteer assistant at Texas A&M, and when I'm in town I will come out and help coach them or coach other people who want to be coached. I just like coaching. I used to coach the Nashville Track Club when I was in college, and just watching the little kids develop was just phenomenal. So that's something I think I want to pursue once I'm done running is coaching -- and then I can play WoW all I want ... (laughs)

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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