A ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach is well known throughout the state of Virginia for its rotating platoon of quality distance runners. Led by long time coach Mike Nestor, this year's team was well represented at the 6A State track meet at Todd Stadium.
The list was impressive and topped off with Brent Bailey, a triple gold medal winner at the indoor state meet, and a miler of extraordinary ability - one who carried a best time of 4:09 for the 1600 into this weekend's meet. Tyler Lipps, a 4:17 miler, was also on the list. Both runners placed in the 1600, with Bailey taking the runner-up position and Lipps fourth.
Davis Young, a 1:55 800-meter runner, was also among the Dolphin state qualifiers. Young placed second in the 800, just behind Patriot's Adam Wosahla.
However, it can be argued with an air of certainty that no Dolphin runner faced more adversity on the road to Todd Stadium than junior Will Spollen.
Spollen is a pleasant young man whose demeanor shows no sign of the struggle he has conquered to date.
As a youngster, Spollen endured two brain surgeries to cure conditions that would require a medical degree to understand, much less spell. He does add that one of the surgeons who operated on him was Dr. Ben Carson, better known to many of us as a presidential candidate and current secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
While his childhood health issues are unrelated to his new ones, they begin to speak of Spollen's ability to handle adversity and persevere.
His current situation made itself known in the middle of Spollen's indoor season last year as a sophomore.
"I was running in the conference 3200 and just kind of ran out of gas," said Spollen, in a matter of fact voice. "I totally forgot the last 800, but remember that my breathing was short and I was 30 seconds off my best time."
A look at Spollen's season time's show a 16:18 at the Adidas XC Challenge in North Carolina followed by a 19:51 and 22:52 in subsequent weekday conference meets. Regardless of the exact moment, Spollen realized that "it wasn't that I just ran a bad race." In fact, he had reverted back to form and run 16:03 at the 2016 MileStat XC Invitational, with the race he spoke about being a 16:36 in a sixth-place Conference 1 championship effort.
A visit to the local cardiologist followed.
"He thought it was arrhythmia, but I know my body," said Spollen. "That race hurt!"
A visit to another cardiologist, this one in Washington, DC, led to a procedure, one that ended with an implantable monitor for Spollen. While his heart vitals became easier to track, he was still not able to race at peak performance for the beginning of his sophomore outdoor season.
After a 10:22, followed by 10:35 and 10:56 performances in the 3200, Spollen seemed to find his stride again at the Lee-Davis Invitational, running a 9:57. However, his body paid for the effort.
"I'm a super positive guy, but that was the most frustrating feeling. At (Lee-Davis), I stumbled across the line. It was almost scary, but my thought was that I'm going to keep running."
Two weeks later, he ran a PR, clocking 9:30 at the Dogwood Classic in Charlottesville. It's a time he wouldn't come close to until Saturday when Spollen placed eighth in the 6A 3200 in 9:41.29. Again, he fell to the track, but looked up to tell MileStat photographer Mary Ann Magnant, "That was a great race!"
Spollen credits some proactive changes with helping him continue to run at a high level. "I've been hydrating more, taking in more salt." He also believes that saunas help. "Tyler Lipps talked me into it, and I was hesitant, but I think it widens my blood vessels and increases blood volume." In spite of later bouts with plantar fasciitis and a stress fracture that elevated to a metatarsal fracture, Spollen pushes on.
"Running is what defines me and makes me most proud," said Spollen. Speaking of his challenges, he adds, "It makes everything else so easy."
His outlook for the future is uniquely positive. Now an All-State track athlete, Spollen looks toward "big goals" for the upcoming cross-country season. "I'm going to enjoy a week off, but get right back to running."
"It's not bad to be scared," adds Spollen in a final thought. He quotes one of his favorite authors, adding, "Courage is being willing to face fear." And with earnestness, he finishes his thought with an interesting perspective on his situation. "I'm thankful that a lot of this has happened by my junior year. Now I know what works and what doesn't."