After a successful run as a competitor, Spence transitions to coach

Wheaton College, 6:30 am—The smell of chlorine permeates the air as you arrive in the Evelyn Danzig Haas Athletic Center. As you approach the balcony and look down at the brightly lit track below, the sound of Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” is clearly audible. There are runners running, throwers throwing, and jumpers jumping, while more athletes arrive to begin their workouts. Each person has a job to do.

Kim Spence ’04 is in the middle of all the action. She’s running around shouting split times to her runners on the 200 meter track as they round the oval again and again. One of her job requirements is multitasking. She juggles multiple stopwatches, splits and the workout programs of the middle distance and distance groups.

“I love to win. I love working with athletes. I get equally excited for them when they do well.”

Stephanie Raymond, Class of 2015 and a middle distance runner in her third year as a member of the track and field teams, loves being coached by Spence.

“Coach Spence is the heart and soul of the sport. She represents the best qualities of a coach and a champion. She gives everything she can to each of her athletes, which is a true talent in itself,” said Raymond.

Spence was promoted to head coach of the cross-country teams at the start of the 2013-2014 season. Spence spent the previous nine seasons as an assistant coach with the cross country program and this marks her first year as head coach.

“It was completely unexpected. I accepted the position the day before the season started.”

Spence has a distinct coaching style. With a calm and compelling demeanor, Spence has a way of really getting through to her athletes. She instills confidence and assurance within them. She’s very good at communicating her goals for the team. She also focuses on the individual roles that each person plays within the team aspect.

“I find that Spence provides reassurance that dissolves pre-race apprehension or nerves. She’s a great listener, very soft spoken and sincere. I’m certain the only time I hear her yelling is when she’s cheering,” says Raymond.

Before she took the coaching position, she was teaching sixth grade social studies at nearby Norton Middle School. Spence made the decision to change careers this year in order to dedicate herself full time to Wheaton’s running program.

“I was excited, but at the same time nervous because I love teaching, but I was also excited to work with the cross country teams.”

Spence is also the assistant coach for the indoor and outdoor track and field teams. This is her 11th season overall as a coach at Wheaton and her fourth year as a member of the track and field staff. She has really become an asset to the program under the leadership of the head coach of the track and field teams, Dave Cusano.

“Its great working with someone who shares similar values, goals and aspirations. Our foundation is similar. We have the same values and beliefs. It’s just our personal characteristics that separate us,” says Cusano.

When she was a student at Wheaton, Spence made a significant impact on the track and field program. She was a four-year member of the indoor and outdoor track and field teams and a cross country runner her senior year.

“The fact that Coach Spence was a Wheaton student-athlete just like all of us makes her, in my opinion, a more effective coach. I know that I can go to her with anything, whether about the team or about my own personal training, and I feel confident that she will understand and know what to say, because she has been exactly where we are. It’s comforting to speak to her about classes and dorms, as well as training, and know that she understands fully where we’re coming from and knows the challenges of being a Division Three athlete,” says Shoshana Kruskal, a senior captain of the cross country and track and field teams.

Spence helped the Lyons win six NCAA track and field championships. She was a two year captain for both the indoor and outdoor track and field teams. While competing, she earned All-America honors in the indoor 4X400 meter relay and the outdoor 3,000 meter steeplechase as a senior.As a sophomore she gained honors for the indoor 800 meter run. Spence qualified seven times for New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) All-Conference honors. In cross country she was an all-region and all conference runner during her single season of competition.

Off the track Spence was a four-time academic all-conference honoree, including three times in track and field. She earned Dean’s List citations and a Wheaton Scholar-Athlete Award. She was named a Balfour Scholar.

Spence received Wheaton’s Claudia Freise Special Recognition Award her senior year. This was due largely in part to her behind-the-scenes dedication to the program and organizing of all the track and field teams’ fundraising efforts.

“It always amazes me how much Coach Spence truly cares about us, not only as athletes, but as people. She puts so much time into helping our team and she always makes herself available to us whenever we need her. Her unwavering commitment to our team makes everyone else want to be committed as well, giving us all extra motivation,” says Kruskal.

Spence graduated magna cum laude from Wheaton in 2004 after majoring in American History and minoring in both art history and studio art. She went on to earn her master’s degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and design from Fitchburg State University.

“As an alum, Spence truly understands the balance of being a student and an athlete, says Raymond. “It’s really motivating as a Wheaton athlete to know that she’s gone through the same experience. She’s run on the same track, and the success she’s had is inspiring.”

Since Spence became assistant coach under the leadership of Dave Cusano, the track and field teams have produced 31 All Americans and one NCAA National Champion. The women’s team has had four national placements and a pair of top-10 finishes in just two years. For the past two years the women’s team has been guided to a pair of back-to-back runner-up finishes at the conference championships within the NEWMAC conference.

“Somehow she [Spence] manages to support and reassure us, while always pushing us to realize our fullest potential. She won’t accept anything less than your best, but takes care to give you the confidence and training necessary to make that possible. There have been countless times in my career that I have been content with myself and willing to settle where I was, but Coach Spence has always been there to push me to do more and want more for myself,” says Kruskal.

The men’s side the track and field program has produced five All-Americans and led the Lyons to a fourth place finish at the 2012 NEWMAC Championships, their highest placement since 2010. Under the new track and field program, Wheaton has posted forty-three NEWMAC All-Conference performances in just two years.

“She [Spence] has made my job easier,” Cusano says, “She has an understanding of the inner workings of campus—deans, students, professors, housing, class scheduling and extra-curricular activities, which has completely fast forwarded my transition.”

As head coach Cusano, “gives full autonomy to each coach in working with their individual groups.” This, in part, has led to the success of the running programs.

Cusano says “the biggest challenge for me as the head coach is trying to keep the prestige of the program, following in the steps of Paul Souza,” who in his 17 years as a coach at Wheaton produced 284 All-Americans, including Spence, and whose athletes participated in 84 national event championships.

“At the end of the day the best part of being a coach is being able to see an athlete succeed after putting in all the hard work.”