Whether he’s rolling around on his scooter, shifting in his seat during an interview or winning a cross country race, Long Beach State freshman runner Tyler Spencer is always on the move.
The Long Beach native just became the Big West Conference Freshman of the year. The award came after Spencer gave Long Beach its highest place finish, 8th, in the conference championships since 2013. He did so in a race where he was the first freshman across the line.
“[Top 10] was definitely one of my goals,” Spencer said. “I was really happy because that’s what I really wanted to do.”
Not all athletes set specific goals, but Spencer does. He wants to push himself to be the best competitor that he can be. Crossing specific accomplishments off a mental list helps him calibrate his progress on that journey.
“He doesn’t want to be just good or okay, he wants to be great,” head coach Shawn Winget said.
Spencer started running cross country when he was eight years old, meaning he already has a decade of experience in the sport. Prior to that, he had already started running track and field.
“I got into cross country through my track coach who said, ‘You’re pretty good at distance I think you should try something called cross country.’ I didn’t really know what it was but I tried it and I liked it,” Spencer said.
Spencer’s cross country journey, however, has not always been easy or even enjoyable. During a two year period in high school he found it so frustrating that he began to question his place in the sport. He credits his coach at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Joe Robles, with keeping him in the sport.
“He really taught me to persevere,” Spencer said.
Spencer had to persevere through a stress fracture in his hip during his freshman and sophomore year at Roosevelt. During that time, he was on the cross country team, but could not compete in races. He stood on the sidelines on crutches during meets, watching his teammates compete.
Unable to participate for half of his high school career, self-doubt began to creep in.
“I was just thinking about, not quitting but, ‘Is this for me anymore? Should I even continue doing this?’” Spencer said.
Robles held multiple discussions with Spencer, where he reminded the budding star of his future potential, helping Spencer to find the patience required to overcome a painful long-term injury.
“He was the one person who didn’t give up on me even when I gave up on myself, I definitely owe him that,” Spencer said.
The patience paid off. During his senior year, just his second full season, Spencer finished third in the California State Championship meet.
Perhaps more importantly, the experience helped Spencer develop a long-term mindset that he uses during races. This attribute is part of what makes him such a special runner, according to Winget.
“He thinks on a high level, he’s not thinking right here in front of his face, he’s thinking big picture,” Winget said.
The success Spencer achieved after his injury, along with the attributes he developed en route to that success factored into his recruitment by Winget and Long Beach State. Spencer, yet to declare a major, is happy that his journey has brought him back to the city where he was born.
“I love [Long Beach State], everything is just going perfectly, it’s the perfect fit,” Spencer said. “I’m really close to my team.”
Spencer and his team will continue their journey Nov. 9 at the NCAA West Regionals in Sacramento, CA.