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Lansing Catholic Track Star Noel Spence Expands His Skills During Pandemic

Noel Spence
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Spence, a Lansing Catholic junior, hopes to make a name in prep and collegiate decathlon.

Noel Spence went into his junior track and field season at Lansing Catholic High School last spring with high hopes. He had a successful sophomore season, where he was All-State in long jump and broke school records in high jump. 

And then COVID-19 came, and his spring track season was canceled.

Despite the disappointment, Spence has dedicated himself to his ultimate goal of becoming a decathlete, competing in college and making the Olympics one day. 

“As soon as the quarantine happened, I took the approach like, ‘I'm not gonna get down on myself since the season is cancelled,’” said Spence. “Right from the get-go I was out running on the local track, down my street and doing anything to improve.”

Spence was preparing to start competing in all 10 events that make up a decathlon despite formerly being a strictly long jump and high jump athlete.

Spence achieved a personal best in the high jump of 6-foot-6 and hit the 21-foot-2.5 mark in long jump twice.

“Noel had big plans in the spring to get marks in all ten events and qualify for a national meet to compete in the decathlon,” said Tim Simpson, LCHS’s head track and field coach. “When it got cancelled, he went into that time very motivated to take advantage of the time when others may not have been training.”

Simpson, a mentor and coach for Spence, was also a standout runner at Michigan State and still holds the school record in the 1500 meters. 

With the guidance of Simpson, Spence organized his training into a combination of running, getting stronger and studying the sport.

“I watched a lot of videos on the experts and how they competed to compare to my film and see how to improve from that,” said Spence.

Spence also attended throwers camp this summer and learned to pole vault, to help improve his decathlon skills.

Spence took it another step further and with the help of his father, Dana Spence, built a squat rack and a mini gym in their basement to help improve his strength.

“When it became obvious that schools and gyms were not reopening, we took matters into our own hands,” said Dana Spence. “Noel significantly improved his strength, as measured by bench press, cleans and other types of lifts.”

Junior year is important for college recruiting, and having the season canceled was a set-back for Spence showcasing his talent. But he has been receiving interest from multiple colleges, based on his previous meet scores.

Spence took advantage of all of the opportunities he could, such as a virtual competition put on by Athletic.net, a website used to report track and field scores.

Spence was able to record himself doing different events at the local track and used this competition as a way to get marks on all of the decathlon events. 

“This virtual competition gave college coaches a measure to see where the athletes are at even if they can’t see them compete in person,” said Simpson.

Athletic.net hosted this competition throughout the nation in which they encouraged athletes to record themselves and report their final times or height for their competition and upload the video to get ranked.

“It was a cool way for coaches to get stats even though we weren’t in competition,” said Spence. “It was a way to let them know that I'm still out and working.”

Simpson, who has experienced first-hand success at the collegiate level, believes that Spence has what it takes to do the same.

“He is spending a lot of time, almost every day working on something to get better,” said Simpson. “He is a super hard worker, a really good athlete, he’s tall and has got a frame that is able to withstand the decathlon. He is able to improve and has got a great natural jumping ability.”

Dana Spence believed that while the season getting cancelled was unfortunate, it may have been a blessing in disguise for Spence due to the way he handled it.

“His training became more efficient,” said Dana Spence. “His training became somewhat old-fashioned, but I think Noel’s speed and strength improved more during quarantine than it may have during a normal spring track season.”

Spence said that he loves this sport, it’s his passion and training for it comes natural to him even though he did not start the sport until the eighth grade. Spence’s drive to succeed is apparent through his dedication to becoming a decathlete.

“The training has been difficult,” said Dana Spence. “It is more grueling than it looks on TV. We are really on our own too since Michigan high schools don’t do the decathlon in meets.”

Spence has done a few mock decathlons on his own to prepare himself for what it would look like in a meet.

“Overall, I think Noel made the best of a situation that had no precedent in our generation,” said Dana Spence.

Spence is looking forward to competing again soon and showing the improvements he has made.

“My progress has definitely been made big time,” said Spence. 

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