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Spencer’s rookie season cut short

Max Spencer competing for Northeastern University. PHOTOS/BENJAMIN WEINGART

Spencer working hard for next season in US


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Max Spencer is gutted after his first year on an American university athletics scholarship was cut short by the covid-19 pandemic.

The former Rathkeale College student and two-time winner of the Wairarapa Secondary Schools Sportsperson of the Year returned to New Zealand about a month ago.

Nineteen-year-old Spencer started at Boston’s Northeastern University last August and was running into good form when he first heard of the disease.

“There was a student in January who got stuck in a country [I can’t remember which one] and they weren’t letting him back in the US and students were protesting about it and stuff like that,” he said on Tuesday.

“I thought how horrible it was for this guy that he couldn’t come over and continue pursuing his education. I never really thought that it would develop into the situation that it is now.”

The university then moved to online classes and Spencer was confident that he and roommate – Canadian middle-distance runner Nick Young – could stay to study, train, and compete.

“It was about a week before we were to fly to Puerto Rico to race the 1500m and we were gutted that got cancelled.

“Initially, we thought that domestic travel wouldn’t be cancelled because Puerto Rico is technically part of the States but all non-essential travel got banned.

The Northeastern University, Boston freshman distance athletics team [left to right] Anders Narita, Pierre Sylvain Jr, Nicholas Young, Max Spencer, Patrick Mullen and Astor Meredith-Goujon.
“Then the NCAA Indoor Championships got scrapped and then we were just waiting to see if the CAA conference outdoor champs would go ahead, but we then got an email from the coach [Tramaine Shaw] and she said ‘No, it’s over’.”

Spencer said Boston became a ghost town overnight.

“It was pretty crazy, one day you’re out and about in this massive city and the next day the streets are dead.

“I went to get ice cream with one of my mates the day before I left for New Zealand and it was just dead.”

Spencer felt his first stint in the US had been anything but “smooth” because it was affected by injury coming after what he described as the season of his life in New Zealand.

“I won the nationals, ran one minute and 49 seconds [for 800m] and qualified for the world juniors.

“It was not unexpected, but I might have overachieved a little bit for what we thought was possible. I was super-stoked about last season,” he said.

“I ran the Hawke’s Bay half-marathon in May in 1hr 12min and I was super happy with it. But probably about a week or two weeks after that, I had an issue … like a bulged disc that had pinched a nerve.

“For the best part of three or four months before flying out to Boston, I couldn’t run and all I could do was low mobility and strength exercises.

“When I got over there, the workouts were going much better than I expected and I was running quite well.

“But I increased my mileage pretty dramatically and of course I developed some pretty bad shin splints.”

After overcoming his injury problems, Spencer trained at altitude in Flagstaff, Arizona, with fellow Kiwi middle-distance runners, two-time Olympic medallist Nick Willis, Eric Speakman, and Pete Callaghan, and American Robby Andrews.

He returned to Boston and ran a 1.52 for the 800m before he “completely bombed in the New England Championships”, racing indoors for one of the first times.

“I didn’t make it out of the round. I think I ran about a 1.59,” Spencer said.

“I’d never touched an indoor track before I went to the States.

“It’s a different beast, there’s not a lot of room and you have to be a lot more aggressive off the line because if you muck up your positioning, it’s very difficult to change it and the straights are only 50 metres.”

Heading into the outdoor season, Spencer felt that he was finding some good form having run a 1.52.2 for the 800m at the IC4A indoor championships and was aiming to qualify for the NCAA championships before they were cancelled.

However, sickness also hampered Spencer’s campaign.

“I’m pretty prone to getting sick. I’m not a very big guy. I’m pretty lean and I don’t have a lot of immunity but I probably only had two to three weeks where I wasn’t sick, getting cold after cold. I got a flu jab and that tended to stop a lot of it, but it was a horrible old thing.”

Spencer was confident he’ll go into his next year at the university well prepared.

“I’m training pretty hard right now and it’s going surprisingly well, doing a lot of strength and base training,” he said.

“I had been running on the [Masterton] golf course, with the grass for cushioning.

“I’m also running in a pair of shoes that look like platforms but they’ve got a lot of support to keep my lower legs in order. I’m doing two workouts a week – two on the track and one on the roads.”

However, Spencer was not sure when he’ll back in Boston.

“It’s so up in the air, I’ve got no clue. I’m hopeful that classes will stay online. I’m hoping early September, but I’m prepared probably to be here until December. “

“I’m pretty gutted my first outdoor season, my freshman season, is binned.

“I had pretty lofty goals I wanted to try and achieve but if it’s for the safety of millions of people, and I think New Zealand is leading the globe on how to handle the pandemic.”

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