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SU’s Neely Spence turns pro, eyes Olympics

28 December 2011 No Comment

SHIPPENSBURG — Shippensburg University senior Neely Spence has begun her dream to become an Olympian with her signing of a contract to become a professional runner.

The signing means she will forgo eligibility for her senior indoor and outdoor track & field seasons with Shippensburg.

Spence has won numerous national running championships as well as awards for her sportsmanship and academic success. She will remain enrolled at Shippensburg for the spring semester and plans to graduate in May with a degree in human communications studies and a minor in coaching. During the semester, she will also serve as a volunteer assistant coach with the track and field teams.

“Ever since I began my competitive career in eighth grade, I have wanted to become a professional distance runner,” Spence said. “This is what I have strived for over the last eight years. Finally, I now have the opportunity to embody this dream. I have climbed to the peak of one mountain, and am about to start at the base of another.

“My main reason for choosing Shippensburg is that I truly believe this was the best program, school and environment for me to meet my goals as both a person and athlete,” she continued. “This has been proven true, for in life we look for opportunities, not guarantees. Shippensburg has provided me many opportunities that would not have been possible anywhere else. Now, I am using this experience to make the next major decision in my life, and I want to thank everyone¬†who has been on this journey with me.”

“This is an unprecedented and exciting opportunity for Neely,” said head track and field coach Dave Osanitsch, ’96. “During her three years she played a significant role in helping the team win four memorable PSAC track championships. Her contributions, however, were not just on the track, but also as a leader who encouraged, supported and inspired her teammates to excellence. I’m sure she will continue her running success and will, as importantly, continue to be the outstanding person of which we are all so proud.”

Spence’s parents, Steve and Kirsten, said they are pleased to see their daughter realize another one of her dreams.

“The decision to remain at Shippensburg worked out splendidly for Neely, for Shippensburg University and for our family, as Neely has remained part of our daily lives instead of being somewhere much farther away,” said Steve, who is SU’s cross country and assistant track coach. “She has the A standard for the Olympic Trials at 5K, but we are considering the possibility of her running the 10K at the trials. Once this was established, it became clear that a collegiate track season would not be conducive to achieving her goals.”

Steve Spence, a former U.S. Olympic Trials marathon champion who represented the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, said the decision to turn professional reflects Neely’s ultimate desire to represent the U.S. at international competitions.

Neely Spence will be able to maximize her training toward competing in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in June at Hayward Field in Oregon. Her main focus will be to meet the Olympic ‘A’ standards in the 5K (15:20) and the 10K (31:45). A top three finish in either event at the Olympic Trials would earn her a spot on the U.S. squad that will compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

During her track career at Shippensburg, she won 17 of 19 PSAC championship races she entered. Her only two losses were second-place finishes in the 1,500 meters, the shortest distance at which she competed. Spence set seven PSAC and four NCAA Division II track and field records, including the all-time NCAA marks in the indoor and outdoor 5,000 meters.

Spence won eight NCAA Division II national championships: six in track and field and two in cross-country. She is an 11-time NCAA All-American and is the only athlete to ever be named the PSAC Athlete of the Year in all of her collegiate seasons in every sport.

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