For as long as he can remember, Willie Spruill loved being active. As a child he would spend all day at the playground, in high school he grew into an excellent baseball player and when he couldn’t afford to go to college he enlisted in the Army.
He loved the physicality of the military and was one of the first to take on as many challenges and activities as possible until one assignment changed everything.
“While I was in the army, I cracked my spine and my pelvis jumping out of an aircraft,” he said. “It was tough. For a guy who likes to be out and involved you can’t really do much of anything, and in my case, things only got worse instead of better.”
Over the years, Spruill went to doctor after doctor trying to get his mobility back and looking for relief from the chronic pain, but it seemed the more he tried the worse things got. By the spring of 2017 he couldn’t run a step. He couldn’t even walk without the use of a cane.
“What made things even worse is I was on all these prescription medications, all these narcotics, and couldn’t think clearly,” said Spruill. “I wasn’t me anymore. I was confused, frustrated, suffering and couldn’t see it ever getting better.”
If there was such a thing as rock bottom, Spruill had hit it. Feeling hopeless, lost and alone he contemplated suicide. “I was ready to kill myself,” he said. “I was even thinking how I was going to do it when I saw a flyer for the North Carolina Senior Games. It was like for just a second the old me shined through. So, I went over to the track and started walking, one painful step at a time.”
Being at the track triggered something in him. The athletic environment, the people working out; it was familiar, comfortable, it was where he felt he was supposed to be.
“The first thing I did was throw that cane down and I started walking,” he said. “Started doing it every day. Pushed a little, then pushed a little more. After a few weeks I got to where I tried for more. And to my surprise I can remember screaming out, “I can run again. I can run again.”
He stopped or cut back on his prescriptions and his mind cleared. He pushed through the pain until the pain began to subside. He grew confident enough to enter three events at the Senior Games and won them all. He hasn’t stopped running since. He still suffers from sciatica and chronic migraines which from time to time do get severe enough to keep him out of action, but whenever he can be, he is at the track.
“This is my sanctuary,” said Spruill. “This is where I find strength and peace. Being out here on the track surrounded by all these people over 50 with all this positive energy, I can’t go wrong. I cannot go wrong. The Senior Games gave me my life back.”
“Sometimes it brings me tears when I think about it, what I have been through and what I have had to overcome,” Spruill said. “And it’s still not over. There are still certain times of year where if I twist wrong, I might end up bent over again. But I know I’m going to get up, get back out there and I’m going to strive every day to motivate every person I see.”