MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — While other Junior Olympians stretched and warmed up, Chanice Spicer sat and did nothing.
She had started running earlier that year, then a rising eighth-grader before the 2016 Rio Olympics. She didn’t really follow track and field results. She had a limited understanding of the sport then. Chandra Spicer, her mother, wondered if Chanice should be doing anything beforehand. Not knowing any better, Chanice answered no. She figured she should save her energy.
Four years later, one of the most decorated runners in Alabama high school history laughed at where she started. Before Spicer dedicated herself to running. Before 17 state titles, nationally-ranked times and state records (11.48 seconds in the 100m). Before leading Brewbaker Tech to second place in the AHSAA Class 5A state meet as a senior.
Spicer finished 66th in her first Junior Olympics. In her last race, she placed second.
“Track is an individual sport,” Spicer said. “… I put in the work every day. You see your results every time you run on the scoreboard.”
There’s a reason why her state medals and other national awards recently just sat on a desk before she ordered two black stands. It’s less about chasing titles and more so about improving. Always. Even if it means beating her own times, which she’s done repeatedly over the last three seasons. It’s how her coaches taught her to operate.
Spicer was Gatorade girls state track and field athlete of the year twice while attending a school that doesn’t have a track on campus. She conquered the tight-rope act of high school while using the sport as a central pillar. She earned the inaugural Lushers Lane Memorial Scholarship - given to athletes in honor of a Montgomery Public School staffer and coach who died last fall. Spicer graduated with a 4.22 GPA and more than 200 hours of community service.
The next step for Spicer to uncover a new set of goals and conquer is with the Alabama Crimson Tide. The 2024 Paris Summer Games are less of a dream and more another endpoint. Ask her support group. Robert Spicer, a pastor and Chanice’s dad, stopped expressing shock at the idea a while ago.
“I’m expecting her to be invited to the next Olympics,” Allen Bowen, a 30-year coach and pastor who’s mentored Spicer the past few years, “That’s the upside for her.”
Within the first few weeks of practice, Bowen knew Spicer possessed what he called a “spirit of excellence.” After three gold medals her first year with Bowen, she started to believe in herself.
Before track, Spicer was a cheerleader and a softball player. She specialized as a pinch-runner. Chandra didn’t want her to add another sport when she thrived at her current pace. Under Bowen’s persuasion, Spicer joined local teams. A quote she heard her mother often use propelled her development:
“Whatever you do, strive to do it so well that no man living and no man dead and no man yet to be born could do it any better,” said civil rights activist and Jim Crow-era pastor Benjamin E. Mays.
Bowen, an assistant track and field coach at Tuskegee University and Stillman alum, recommended Spicer read books on Allyson Felix. He sent her videos of other runners to examine. Spicer started sending back questions and observations.
She worked out six days a week, alternating between the track at G.W. Carver High and Shakespeare Park. Spicer tapes down an imaginary starting line in the house if it rains. Robert learned to set up a tent and space heater for nighttime practices.
“She didn’t really have any technique,” Robert Spicer said. “She was just fast (at the start).”
Because of the pandemic, Tuskegee canceled its track season. It gave them extra time and if Bowen couldn’t attend a race or practice, Chandra filmed it for him.
Bowen watched his daughter Jalyn Bowen win the Rams’ first gold medal in the high jump in 2015. Two years later, senior year coincided with Spicer’s first season. The families soon became friends and Bowen considers Chanice one of his daughters. He knows some of the obstacles that Spicer has yet to clear. The past few seasons have been teaching Spicer to compete against herself.
Sometimes after church, Spicer will try to coax Bowen onto to work on her starts, something she still perceives as a weakness. They’ve worked on her “edge,” like putting on a tougher game face at meets and pushing the pace at certain moments. At nights before competitions, Bowen will give her timed benchmarks to clear.
He used to give her goals during each training session. About two years into their practices, though, Spicer started arriving with her own practice itinerary. To Bowen’s surprise, her ideas more or less matched up with his plans.
“(Track) transitioned to my daily life,” Spicer said. “(It’s just about) trying to be the best I could be.”
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