The summer Olympics are held once every four years and attracts the attention of fans across the world.
This year’s Olympics had the chance of being a life-changing experience for one Shippensburg University alumna, Neely Spence Gracey.
Spence Gracey has always dreamed about being an Olympic runner. And even with the Olympics being pushed back a year, Spence Gracey remains optimistic about her chances of going to Tokyo.
Just 25 months ago, Spence Gracey and her husband, Dillon, welcomed their first son, Athens, into the world. Because of the nausea and fatigue that comes with carrying a baby, Spence Gracey had to put her training on hold.
The climb back postpartum was also not an easy journey. The process of getting back to the elite level of running she was used to required lots of patience. And to top everything off, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic made its appearance back in March.
However, Spence Gracey is one of the lucky ones and has found a handful of positives out of the negative situation. With tracks and other facilities closed for a few months, she was forced to get creative with her training. With the help of her husband, Dillon, Spence Gracey went around her neighborhood in Boulder, Colorado, with her measuring wheel, marking lines at every 50 meters.
In addition to her innovative “track,” Spence Gracey has an equipped gym in her garage. In a non-pandemic world, she typically uses the pool at her local recreational center for cross training and routinely visits her chiropractor, physical therapist and massage therapist to help keep her body healthy. But once again, Spence Gracey got creative.
“I no longer felt comfortable seeing my chiro, PT and massage therapist,” she said. “So, my husband Dillon, who’s my coach and a fellow Ship grad, started doing the leg massages for me and that has been tremendous.”
Back in January, Spence Gracey competed in the Houston Marathon, her first professional race since giving birth. In Houston, she ran 2:44, just 10 minutes off her personal best of 2:34, which she notched in the New York City Marathon back in 2016. She said while it was not her personal best, she was thrilled with the outcome — and rightfully so.
Come February, Spence Gracey qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials but did not stamp her ticket to Tokyo. However, the 10k U.S. Olympic Team trials, which have since been postponed until June 2021, will give her another opportunity to represent Team USA. The postponement gives her the time she needs to improve her fitness and strength over the next year.
“I met my post-baby goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, and now I am looking to go after that pre-baby time,” she noted. “I worked on my speed all spring, and then have been focused on developing aerobic strength with my long runs. I am excited to see how I respond to the work I am putting in.”
Spence Gracey said she is still hopeful to qualify in the 2021 Olympic Team trials, but at this rate, her plan is to set herself up as a contender in the 2024 Olympic trials. She feels that she needs another year to get back to her true form.
Additionally, Spence Gracey said she is eyeing many other goals besides the Olympics. One of those goals includes running in all the World Major Marathons. She has already completed the Boston and New York City marathons but is eager to run in London, Berlin, Tokyo and Chicago.
“As a pro athlete, the Olympics is a huge goal,” she said. “But it’s one race every four years and it would be amazing if things came together, but I can’t define my career off whether or not I make an Olympic team. I have so many other goals that excite me and motivate me to stay focused in training and in life.”
Even during a time when spirits and motivation may be down, Spence Gracey continues to keep hard at her training. And she credits her drive to keep pushing to her one true passion — her love for running.
She mentioned that since the beginning of the pandemic, there has not been a single moment where she felt like giving up. In fact, she said sometimes she gets too motivated and heightens the risk of injury. That is just who she is.
Not only does her motivation derive from her personal goals and training, but as a running coach, she enjoys helping her clients gain more experience and reach their own personal feats.
Spence Gracey is currently a running coach for her online team, Get Running, neelyruns.com. The Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, native said seeing her clients’ response to no racing opportunities the past few months has been eye-opening.
“It has been really inspiring to see my clients’ response to no racing opportunities and wanting to stick with training because they value the routine, the structure and are happy to track fitness through consistent training and workouts,” she said.
The course of the next year will be critical for Spence Gracey. Her ultimate goal is to get back to her pre-baby level of fitness and continue to maximize her days. She recalls having this similar mindset dating back to her days at SU.
Without having much time on her hands, it will be a challenge. But if anyone knows how to overcome obstacles, it is Spence Gracey.
“I thrived on routine in college. I was very structured with my time, very focused on maximizing my days, and this has carried over into life now,” she said. “I am a mom, I have my own business, and I train professionally. I don’t have a lot of extra time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being home with Athens. I love coaching my clients. And I love training.”