A former Shippensburg University runner with an endless number of accolades can add another one to the list. On April 18, Neely Spence Gracey ran into United States history.
On Monday, Gracey ran the 2016 Boston Marathon, finishing ninth among women contestants with a time of 2 hours and 35 minutes in her marathon debut as a professional runner. Gracey was the first American woman to finish the 2016 Boston Marathon.
Gracey, a 2012 SU alumna, was born with running in her blood. In a 2012 interview with The Slate’s sports staff, Gracey said that both her parents were long-distance runners so she has always had a drive to excel in a longer race.
According to ESPN, Gracey’s father, current SU men’s cross-country coach Steve Spence, was the second American man to cross the finish line in 1989. His daughter, Neely, was then born on race day while he was competing in the 1990 marathon.
At SU, Gracey helped lead the women’s 2011 cross-country team to four consecutive NCAA Atlantic Regional Championships. Gracey became the first athlete in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) history to win four straight individual PSAC cross-country titles.
In 2011, Gracey also medaled in the Pan-American Games, finishing eighth among some of the world’s top runners.
“I was really happy,” Gracey said of the Boston Marathon.
“I met all of my goals out there. It wasn’t a fast day on the course, but I executed my plan and strategy very well. I played it conservative to have a positive finish and I’m excited to it being the beginning of my marathon career,” Gracey said.
With a time of 2 hours and 35 minutes, Gracey finished just 5 minutes and 41 seconds off of the women’s marathon winner.
“I think SU set me up to have a successful professional running career,” Gracey said.
“Starting with my freshman year, I was a part of a team that won a Division II National Championship. It opened the door for me to love the sport. It made the running experience more fun today.”
Attending the race was Gracey’s father, Steve, who got to enjoy Gracey’s success first-hand as a spectator.
“It was so nice he was there with me today. He went through this before and it was very special that we got to share it together,” Gracey said.
Among other proud supporters of Gracey were her twin sisters, Margeaux and Reynah Spence.
“I was able to watch part of her race in philosophy today and I was so excited to see how she did,” Margeaux said.
“I texted her right away to congratulate her, and for her to be the first United States woman to finish is just unbelievable. I am so proud of her and the family is so proud of her.”
Gracey noted that without the help of numerous people, she would not have been able to be as successful of a runner that she is today.
“A lot of people get to see my races and see my results, but few people get to see the people who helped me get there,” Gracey said.
“I want to thank my husband, my teammates, my parents, my coaches and my massage therapist. I feel very blessed to have the support system I do.”
Gracey has just only begun her marathon career, but with a remarkable finish in her first-ever marathon — Gracey has not even scratched the surface of what she can accomplish. Gracey has opened the door to a long and successful running career.