Every athlete desires recognition and to have their hard work, blood, sweat and tears acknowledged by their coaches, their fans and most importantly their peers. Junior cross country runner Josh Spare of East Carolina University earned this acknowledgment on Nov. 1 at the American Athletic Conference Championships.
Spare received All-Conference honors for finishing 13th in the entire conference in the 8K. Only those who finish in the top-15 receive this honor, and this level of success isn’t new for Spare.
“I never really won any big championships in high school,” Spare said. “It helped build my passion for it, my hunger for it. I finished all-state for 5A in Virginia my junior year of high school. I think I was 16-17 time all conference regional runner up for the two mile, but I never really broke through and won a race at a big-time championship meet. It was usually all region, all-state, or All-Conference but I never got that individual championship.”
That lack of having that individual title has pushed Spare to work harder than he ever had, and the results have shown over the course of his collegiate career. Finishing in the top-15 this year is a massive jump compared to where he was this time last year as last year he had to drop out of the conference championships and couldn’t finish the race. Coupled with some other things that had happened earlier in that season where he stands today is a huge improvement.
“Last year was kind of my turning point. At the home meet last year I was actually stretchered off and I was in the hospital for four days. It was a back spasm that caused a cardiac event. For me that was kind of my turning point because the doctors weren’t sure what was going on,” Spare said. “I remember at one point they told me that they weren’t sure if I would run again. That hit me because you come from running a cross country race and now you are in the hospital for a few days and they are telling you, you can’t run. Fortunately everything came back clean and I was good to go and was running one I got out.”
Spare is someone who is familiar with injury and setbacks. Through his high school and middle school career he experienced several. After being cut from the middle school track team in sixth grade he tried out again and made it in seventh grade. In high school, Spare had been sending out tapes and messages to college coaches since his freshman year, and had gotten similar responses from most, those being that he should continue to message them and that they will see how he progresses through his junior and senior years.
But the offers that he did eventually get were withdrawn as he was injured his junior year and got sick with Mono his senior year. Though there were a few that remained one of which was from ECU and their new head coach Josey Weaver.
“I will never forget,” Spare said. “Weaver called me. It was after an indoor meet, and it was one of the worst races of my life. I saw I had a voicemail and it said ‘hi my name is coach Weaver from East Carolina. Call me back.’ He asked me and I will never forget this either ‘What do you know about East Carolina?’ And I was like coach I don’t know too much. Even though I’m from Virginia Beach and it’s like two hours up the road, I don’t really know too much but the more he talked with me, and when he told me that it was always his dream to coach East Carolina that’s when I knew I should really look into this.”
Coach Weaver knew that despite the setbacks he faced Spare had what it took to overcome them as Josh had been running long-distance since he was very young, inspired by his dad who would come home with medals from running 5ks and other events.
“I remember coming in we didn’t want to just bring anybody onto the team to be a number,” Weaver said. “So we started looking and a lot of people had already committed and signed on to all types of places and I remember getting in touch with Josh and not a whole lot of people were looking at him. When I talked to him, we met with him and his dad, the thing I remember was just how determined he was, he had a sense of confidence even though he hadn’t ran the times that we had needed him to run yet, but I remember his dad actually looked at myself and coach Kraft and his dad said something like ‘if you put anything in front of Josh and challenge him he will prove you right,’ and he has.”
Spare has grown into one of the leaders of the team. After learning from the likes of Nick and Andrew Ciaccia, and Bakri Abushouk. He has taken what they have taught him and is now doing his best to pass this knowledge onto his underclassmen.
“He has been at the bottom of the bottom and now he is at the top of the top. He is trying to help our young guys do not make the same mistakes that he made and because of that they have become better faster,” Weaver said. “He is one of our leaders. He is vocal when he needs to be, he can also lead by example, and if we win a conference championship with Josh as our number five guy he would be just as happy as if he was our number one guy.”
The fire that was ignited so many years ago has pushed Spare to where he is today and he isn’t stopping anytime soon. Now that he has made all conference the goal is to make all regional in the upcoming South East Regional Championships where Spare and few of his teammates will take on the best that all of the Carolinas, Virginia and Kentucky have to offer.
“Its funny to look back on that now as a lot of people missed out on Josh Spare. There are tons of teams that wish they could have him right now,” coach Weaver said.
Spare will look to make those who missed out regret it more when he takes to the track again in the Southeast Regional Championships which are going to be held on Friday in Charlottesville, Virginia.