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    January 27, 2023 Tempe, Ariz. RSS |

    In the nearly five years since moving on from Liberty University, where he coached the Club Sports men’s and women’s triathlon and cycling and men’s swimming teams simultaneously, former Flames triathlete Parker Spencer (’12) has trained the next generation of Team USA triathletes through its Project Podium. On Wednesday, he was rewarded for his efforts by being named USA Triathlon’s 2022 Olympic Coach of the Year.

    Spencer, now USA Triathlon’s Development Senior Manager as well as its Project Podium Head Coach, accepted the award at its Endurance Exchange, a three-day USA National Race Director and Coaching Conference held at the Austin (Texas) Convention Center.

    Spencer coaches from the pool deck.

    “As a certified USA Triathlon coach of a national team of elite triathletes who compete at the highest level, I feel I’m at the pinnacle of the sport,” Spencer said Thursday after stepping off the airplane in Tempe, Ariz., on his Uber drive to a morning practice. “Looking back at my career, I realize that a coach is only as good as the team you surround yourself with. The support team is key.”

    He credited Club Sports Athletic Director Kirk Handy, former Liberty Vice President for Auxiliary Services Lee Beaumont, Dr. David Horton, professor of some of his most impactful exercise science classes, as well as former assistant coaches Van Phillips and Scotty Curlee.

    Spencer, the USA Triathlon Olympic Coach of the Year, poses with Development Coach of the Year Lisa Marshall, Coach Educator of the Year Maria Simone, and Paratriathlon Coach of the Year Mark Sortino.

    “Everyone played a huge role,” Spencer said. “Liberty’s played such a massive role in my life and in my development as a coach and a person. Being a student at Liberty and learning from Dr. Horton and being inspired by his class led to me switching my major and my career path altogether. Then, coaching at Liberty, Van Phillips and Scotty Curlee were key people that helped me do what I do every day.”

    He is surrounded by a tremendous support system through USA Triathlon, with his team of 12-15 triathletes between the ages of 18-23 based out of Tempe, Ariz., for eight months of the year and the 2002 Winter Olympic facilities in Park City, Utah, for the four warmest months.

    “Now, there’s a massive team of people that help me do what I do every day,” Spencer said. “I’ve got really strong mentors that have coached at this level for 20-30 years who are key people in my life. I love this role and the type of athletes I get to coach because a big part of my job is helping them grow up, leaving their parents’ home for the first time. I get to do more than help them become triathletes. I get to help them in life.”

    “My job now is to find our next Olympians, develop them as athletes, and when they graduate (from Project Podium) and are no longer a developmental athlete, hand them off to the coach who will coach them one-on-one in the Olympics,” he added. “We have a really strong recruiting class coming in, and the program is thriving. It’s been a lot of fun.”

    Two recent Project Podium graduates, Darr Smith and Chase McQueen, are currently on track to make the U.S. Olympic triathlon team that will go to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Additionally, Spencer recruits and trains Team USA’s Paralympic triathletes, including one with a missing hand who placed fourth in the PTS5 classification at both Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020 and another who is visually impaired.

    “Both of those triathletes will go to Paris and are looking really strong to medal,” Spencer said.

    Spencer works with a team member on a spinning bike.

    Spencer leans on a couple of his former triathletes at Liberty — Thomas Sonnery, who is from France but is now eligible to compete for the United States in world triathlon events, and current graduate student and Flames team member Giovanni Bianco from Italy, who has earned M.S. degrees in Human Performance and Psychology.

    “Giovanni meets with every single athlete I coach on a regular basis, remotely, as their mental skills coach,” Spencer said.

    He enjoys the opportunity to travel the world, visiting 16 countries in 2022, with even more scheduled this year as COVID-19 restrictions have lifted and the Summer Games in Paris approach. Spencer and his wife, Kristina, have two daughters, Alayna, 3, and Lilyanna, 11 months, who will travel with him to a few events in the United States and international races in Mexico and the Dominican Republic this year.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer