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Spencer – Rookie of the Year

Spencer winning the 2018 national senior boys 800m for Rathkeale. PHOTO/FILE


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After a first season of ups and downs, Wairarapa athlete Max Spencer is making big strides in the US university athletics scene.

The former Rathkeale student was named Colonial Athletic Association [CAA] Rookie of the Year, an award that he said came as a complete surprise.

“I just woke up to my phone going nuts one day, and sure enough, I had won the award.”

The recognition comes after his first year at Boston’s Northeastern University was disrupted by injury and illness.

The onset of the covid-19 pandemic forced Spencer to return to his Masterton home for several months in 2020, cutting short a promising start to his American athletics season.

He eventually returned to Boston at the beginning of September 2020 after deciding it was the best move for his running.

However, the break came at a good time given the injuries and illness that had plagued his first year in the US.

“I spent four months post-season out with a bulged disc in my back, followed by an additional four months of shin splits due to high mileage and then back-to-back sickness all through my freshman year,” said Spencer.

“I was told recently that I spent a total of four weeks of my entire freshman year healthy, with no sickness or injury.

“The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for me because it allowed me to get my body to a place where I could run pain-free again.”

The break paid off for Spencer. On his return, he finished 12th and was a member of the NU team who won the CAA cross-country championship.

“I was pretty surprised considering I’m not exactly the most typical cross-country runner, nor have I really shown any promise in it since my earlier Rathkeale days until now.”

Spencer said although he was pleased with his cross-country season, he only had a week to transition to his specialist 800m and the start of outdoor track season in Florida.

“I still ran well in Florida, but I was just lacking that track speed I developed with [coach] Wayne Andrews-Paul during my career at Rathkeale.”

Spencer then raced in North Carolina, where he ran one minute and 50.5 seconds, his fastest time for the distance since March 2019, and his highlight for the season.

He only competed in another two 800m races, both of which he said he came up short because of quarantine and cancellations of meetings.

The 21-year-old is targeting a personal best over 800m and a sub four-minute indoor mile.

“My training last season has shown I am easily capable of both of those things.

“My aerobic strength has improved immeasurably, and I am confident both will happen come the indoor season, beginning in December.”

Before then is the cross-country season, but Spencer’s focus for the next few months be building the mileage into his legs and eventually speed.

“Mileage is the part I can’t stand about running, but it’s all necessary even if it does mean I wake up for about six months of the year feeling dusty.

“I prefer to do higher intensity training as I have a real appetite for pain, but I’ve learnt that a multi-dimensional plan, while not allowing me to make big jumps over 800, will serve me well in the future.”

As well as his athletics commitments, Spencer is busy as part of NU’s programme called ‘Co-op’, which he said are internships that replace classes to better prepare students for real life.

He is also working as a designer and design engineer at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and at Generate Product Development as a developer on the website team.

Spencer will resume his university studies in January but hopes to come home to visit family over Christmas, but said it’s almost impossible with the quarantine and how expensive it is.

“I am fully vaccinated, so I hope New Zealand’s administration does something to enable those of us overseas to come back to see family.”

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