Spencer Sunbury said he thoroughly enjoys being outdoors during late afternoon in the fall and spring working with the Seymour High School girls’ cross-country and track-and-field teams.
Sunbury graduated from Seymour in 1989, where he ran cross-country and track, and swam. He qualified for state swim meet as a member of the 400 free relay team three straight years, but he did not make it to state as a runner.
He recalled the 1985 cross-country team qualified for state, “but I was the 13th guy on that team.”
He graduated from Purdue in 1994 and did substitute teaching in Seymour before he became a teacher at Redding Elementary School, where he continues to teach today.
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He coached swimming at Seymour for seven or eight years before he moved to cross-country and track.
This is his 15th year coaching cross-country, and his teams have qualified for state the past three years. Prior to that, Zoey Johnson qualified for state two years.
Sunbury has won three track sectionals and has had several individuals and relay teams qualify for state, but says he has never had a state champion.
He sat out the three previous seasons as head girls track coach and will return to that position this spring.
This fall, Spencer is coaching his oldest daughter, Makenna, a sophomore at Seymour.
His wife, Kathy, is girls’ cross-country coach at Seymour Middle School and is coaching their daughter, Lillian, an eighth-grader. Their youngest daughter, Ava, is in fifth grade and also is a runner.
Spencer said it is enjoyable coaching Makenna.
“I’ve always loved running with her when she was younger,” he said. “Now she doesn’t let me run with her because I’m too slow — I can’t keep up with her. When she first came to high school it was a little hard because I tried not to cheer too hard for her. I cheer just as hard for all of them. Its fun to get excited seeing her running well.
“It has its moments. That father-daughter relationship sometimes can be a little much depending on what’s happening in a workout or something. I think she handles it great, and I think she still enjoys it.”
All three of the daughters have ran in either two or three USTAF national meets in South Carolina, New Mexico or Alabama.
“They’re all looking forward to doing it again this year,” he said. “I tried not to persuade them when they were younger. I would ask them if they wanted to go do a 5K or something. I tried to let them develop the desire to do it. My wife (who played tennis at SHS) has really taken to running. It’s one thing that we all have in common.
“(Kathy) is very competitive and has really taken to running. She’ll do some research at home on workouts. She’ll ask me something and I’ll give her my point of view, but she always has her own ideas or something she has researched. She takes a little bit from me but she does a lot on her own.”
Sunbury said starting a running club for elementary-age youth has increased interest and numbers in the middle school and high school programs.
He has enjoyed distance running since he began running in elementary school.
“When I was younger it was something I was decent at,” Sunbury said. “Once I got to middle school, everybody else was growing and I wasn’t growing so it was something I fit in with.
“Now, it’s such a good outlet to get out there. Some of the races I’ve done, it’s that challenge where you get a chance to challenge yourself. You’re either going to be happy and proud of yourself or you’re going to be disappointed in yourself because nobody else has a say in what you do. It’s what you do.”
Sunbury said he doesn’t run many 5K races, but competes in other types of races.
“I’ve done three IRONMAN, I’ve done a couple half-marathons, and I’ve helped Steve (Sunbury, brother) with a couple of those trail runs,” Sunbury said. “I hope to get back into another IRONMAN. The older I get the harder it is to run 5K because I don’t have that speed any more.”
During meets, tells his high school runners to trust in themselves that they are going to not only finish their races, but improve their times.
“The biggest thing I try to get across to these girls is ‘you’re capable of so much more than you think. Your body is more capable of what your mind is telling you,'” Sunbury said. “It’s a matter of believing in yourself and trusting yourself, and the one thing I tell my runners is the great thing about cross-country is ‘what you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. It’s not up to me, it’s not up to your teammates, it’s up to you,’ and ‘in the end you’re the one you have to answer to as far as your performance.
“So, if you put the time and the effort in, and you have the will to do it, you’re going to see the results that you’re hoping for.’ When we approach races we talk about you’ve got to get out to get into the race, you’ve got to get out strong to be part of the race because it’s hard to come back once you’re halfway through a race.”
Sunbury said he has a good relationship with boys coach Randy Fife and the boys’ team.
“One thing Randy and I have always talked about with our cross-country programs is the boys and girls always get along well,” he said. “It’s nice at the meets. It’s a good support system for them.”
In the spring, Sunbury said he likes the variety of events that make up a track meet.
“You can get a lot of athletes out for track,” he said. “Whether they’re sprinters or distance runners or throwers or jumpers. That is one sport you probably get more of the school’s athletes out for than any other sport, and it’s kind of fun to bring them all together from all their different specialties and bring them into track.”
The track teams make good use of the turf football field at Bulleit Stadium.
“There’s a lot of drills and technique work that we can do on the turf,” Sunbury said. “It’s a nice, soft surface so you’re not worried about injuries or anything there. It’s a good place for runners with injuries to rehab. With the field before we were able to do a little bit, but it’s a lot nicer having that turf there.”
Sunbury said one coaching tip he got from swim coach Dave Boggs, “When in doubt: Rest. Sometimes I think it irritates the girls because they think I’m not prepared for practice. They’ll ask ‘how are we going to run?’ and I’ll ask ‘How are you feeling today?’ I typically like to have two workouts in mind before I start a practice, and then I like to go by how the girls are feeling.”
Seeing athletes push their comfort zones, and grow, is one of Sunbury’s favorite parts of coaching.
“They’re excited about it,” he said. “That’s what makes it rewarding.”