More than just a coach
Coach Parker Spencer trained to run, but now runs a bigger kind of race in life
During high school, Liberty Triathlon Head Coach Parker Spencer realized that, at 5 feet 8 inches and 135 pounds, he wasn’t meant for football.
“Back in high school, I was the same size [as I am now], maybe even smaller,” Spencer said.
“I was getting destroyed on the football field. So I switched over to track and never looked back.”
At that point, running was just a hobby for Parker Spencer.
More than 10 years later, it’s his life.
After four years of competing on Liberty’s NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Team and serving as the triathlon team’s captain, Spencer graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science.
He continued to work at Endorphin Fitness, a training center in Richmond, where he quickly rose to Director of Coach
Operations, overseeing 20 coaches and over 500 athletes.
“It was my dream job at the time,” Spencer said.
“Or so I thought.”
In 2015, Senior Director of Campus Recreation Kirk Handy reached out to Spencer and asked him to return and coach Liberty’s triathlon team.
Spencer agreed, first commuting from Richmond before returning to Lynchburg to additionally coach the cycling and swimming programs.
According to Spencer, it’s been a dream ever since.
“Now that this is my focus, I feel like a caged animal that was just let out,” Spencer said.
“I’m going all out, trying to recruit athletes.”
The triathlon program alone swelled from 11 members to 42, with over eight different countries represented.
Spencer expects the group to surpass 50 triathletes by January, with more international students slated to join.
“I have a heart for the international guys, because them coming to Liberty has the potential to change their life a whole lot more than someone from America,” Spencer said.
“Giving a kid from France or Hungary the opportunity to come and be part of a world class program can set them up for a life they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Joan Colamarde was personally recruited earlier this year by Spencer, who first reached out in December 2016 to the 18-year-old Spaniard.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Colamarde said.
“I was so excited, but my parents were worried. They didn’t know Parker.”
To dissuade these concerns, Parker Spencer and his wife Kristy traveled and met the family in Barcelona for lunch, hurdling the language barrier with the help of their smartphone.
“We spent three hours there, and used Google Translate a lot,” said Kristy Spencer, also a triathlete.
Their efforts paid off, and in June the triathlete arrived in Virginia to spend the summer with them.
Colamarde went on to pass Liberty’s International Test of English Proficiency (iTEP), and is currently enrolled in his first semester at Liberty.
Spencer, Colamarde and two other triathletes traveled to Penticton, British Columbia in August, and Spencer placed eleventh in his first World Championship Triathlon.
“Parker is an amazing person,” Colamarde said.
“And this is an amazing opportunity that, without him, without Liberty, I couldn’t [have].”
The Spencers will continue to open their home to other international athletes to learn English and prepare for an education at Liberty, and ultimately further Coach Spencer’s vision of having a world-class triathlon program.
Spencer’s ultimate dream is to see student athletes with potential—athletes like Colamarde—eventually compete in the Olympics.
“I want athletes from multiple countries that came out of LU’s program competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics,” Parker Spencer said.
“I tell our team all the time, that’s our goal.”
Throughout the past decade, Parker Spencer has competed in dozens of competitions all over the globe.
Aug. 19 marked his ninth World Championship, where he broke a personal record by
placing second in his age group in the Penticton, British Columbia 2017 Men’s Sprint Duathlon.
“I placed seventeenth last year in my category, so I was really pumped to know that I finished so well [this year],” Parker Spencer said.
“Crossing that finish line, knowing that the work I put in paid off…it’s just awesome.”
It’s a feat he appreciates even more in light of a virus that caused severe damage to his heart and nearly ended his athletic
career in 2015.
According to Spencer, he was training with an athlete in
Richmond, Virginia, when he experienced immense chest pain.
“I couldn’t breathe anymore,” Spencer said.
“I thought I was having a heart attack.”
The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital bed, and finding out that the lining around his heart was severely inflamed.
He spent a week in the hospital, where he was told he could never run again—a diagnosis Parker Spencer refused to accept.
“He’s crazy,” Kristy Spencer said.
“He just turned to the doctor and said, ‘Well, that’s not happening.’”
Sure enough, Parker Spencer flew to Germany a year later to
compete in the Challenge Roth 2016 Ironman, placing thirtieth in his age group after spending 10 hours swimming, cycling, and
running the 140.6 mile course.
“Ever since that, things have been getting better and better,” Spencer said.
Parker Spencer hopes his drive and dedication will serve as an
example for those truly passionate for such a grueling sport.
“You know, a lot of people think what we do is crazy,” Parker
“The name of the game is who can suffer the most, who can be the most uncomfortable—day in, and day out. You got to rejoice in the process. The more you suffer, the better you’re going to be.”
Vence is a feature reporter