It is a bright Saturday morning. While most of the students at Huntington University won’t be up for hours, junior Gretchen Spahr and her teammates are already out running in the streets of her hometown.
Spahr’s determination and passion for running is obvious, and she has done what few athletes
have been able to accomplish. In her first two years, she’s earned four All-Conference honors and participated in four national championships. She holds three Forester records for the indoor and outdoor 5,000 meter and the indoor 3,000 meter.
To an outsider, it might seem that her talent on the track is natural, but Spahr’s triumph over her competitors is nothing compared to the struggles she has faced with the prevalent threat to her passion— her health.
Spahr, a native of Huntington, Ind., was born with a spinal abnormality and needed to have back surgery when she was just 2 years old. She recovered, and in the fourth grade, she and her fraternal twin, Natalie, decided to try running cross country. In doing so, she discovered a lifelong love.
“The best thing about being in cross country and track throughout my life has been the relationships that I’ve built through it,” she said. “Running creates a strong bond between all kinds of people, and in my experience, they are not easily broken.”
But her faith was tested when Spahr needed to undergo back surgery for the second time. This time, she was 12 years old, and the surgery consisted of placing two 8-inch titanium rods in her back. She recalls the long and vigorous road to recovery after that surgery as the most memorable experience in her spiritual growth as a Christian.
“I had to go back to square one after surgery,” she said. “I had to once again master basic skills like walking and going up and down stairs. It was the most challenging event in my life, and it changed me.”
Spahr was frustrated with the long recovery process, but was spurred in her recovery by her sister Natalie, also a junior at HU.
“I could see Natalie out running every day, and she was a great motivation for me,” she said. “I wanted to be able to run with her again.”
Spahr made a full recovery and has hit the ground running — literally.
With her back pain behind her, she clinched second place at the conference cross-country meet her freshman year and individually qualified for nationals.
Now, with victory over health issues, she doesn’t take one second out on the track or trails for granted. To her, God helped her overcome those initial trials so she could continue to live out her passion.
“It was in God’s plan that I was able to fully recover and get back to a completely normal life,” she said. “He continues to use that experience to help me relate to others and encourage them. Physical injuries and challenges are such a huge blow to so many people, and I wish they knew that’s not necessarily where God wants their story to end. He makes all things new.