Competition still fuels Spencer Head.
After working odd jobs and attending three different colleges, the 25-year-old from Camas has reinvented himself as a grizzled Roadrunner for Dalton State.
On Nov. 21, at McAlpine Park in Charlotte, Head earned eighth place at the NAIA Cross Country National Championship. He completed the 8-kilometer course in 24 minutes, 47.9 seconds to become an All-American.
“The race was just kind of taking care of business,” he said. “I consider myself a middle distance runner and not a cross country specialist. I’m glad I was able to grind it out and do what I needed to do.”
This was more than seven years after Head won the Washington state 3A 800-meter championship during his senior year at Camas High School.
“It has been a long journey,” he said. “I’m happy for this moment, but I got to keep working. I’m hoping for that ‘cloud nine’ moment this year.”
Head helped the Roadrunners win their first conference championship and finish in 11th place at nationals. He said the real fun begins in January when he gets to spearhead the school’s first indoor track team.
“It will be cool to wear the Dalton State uniform and do what I actually love to do,” Head said. “If you’re more muscular, bigger and more powerful, you’re probably going to be a better middle distance runner. There’s no point in wasting the speed if you got it.”
Head’s evolution into a Roadrunner took many detours before he finally discovered the right track. He went straight to Lane Community College after high school, but a bout with mononucleosis sent him home before track season ended. Head then ventured into the Navy until he suffered a stress fracture during basic training.
After working at Fed Ex for a few years, Head said Camas teacher Sal Colletto helped him rediscover that itch to compete. He weighed just under 200 pounds when he started running again.
“At that point in my life, I was looking for something to hold on to. I wasn’t really going anywhere fast,” Head said. “Sal brought me back from the dead. He doesn’t seek any glory, he just helps people. He’s one of the good guys in Camas.”
Head and Colletto started training together for triathlons. It was taking a long time to get the biking and swimming down, on top of the running. Once Head discovered he still had college eligibility, he made a u-turn.
“Sal and I were on a bike ride. When I told him I still had eligibility, he said ‘why aren’t you in school?'” Head said. “It’s one of those things that just worked out.”
Head attended Clark College to get his grades up before transferring to Missouri Valley University. There, he became an indoor All-American with an 8K time of 25:20. The program went through some changes after the head coach left, and Head was looking for a new opportunity. Dalton State offered him a full ride scholarship to run cross country.
“I couldn’t turn that down,” Head said. “They got a track team started because of me.”
With indoor track this winter, outdoor in the spring and summer, and cross country again in the fall, Head is happy to have a year’s worth of competition to look forward to.
“The passion has never really gone away. If anything, it’s probably more focus and more passion. I don’t really take it for granted now,” Head said. “Not very many people did it the way that I did. I’m proud. I never gave up.
“Not many people can run a PR at 19, wait five years and do it again when they’re 25, but I did.”
When Head comes home to Camas for the holidays and in the summer, he trains with former high school coach Sherrie Geiger.
“Sherrie and I are neighbors. She lives two blocks away,” Head said. “I guess you should take advantage of the resources just down the street. It’s been the smartest move for me.”
The long and winding road to becoming a runner again gives Head valuable knowledge to share with upcoming Camas High School graduates.
“When you’re at that age, it always seems like you’re running out of time to make a huge decision,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to have something, hold on to it and keep working at it. It’s never too late to go back to school.”
Head doesn’t see his thirst for competition quenching any time soon. He has a lot more years left in those legs and beating heart.
“I want to run until I’m 40,” he said. “Beat some 25-year-olds when I’m 40. That would be cool.”