Spencer Keith used to be a serious rock climber. With no rock climbing team at Corona del Mar High, Keith ran.
Three years ago, Keith joined the boys' cross-country and track and field teams at school. During the first two seasons, he still found time for his first passion. Coach Bill Sumner caught wind of the rock climbing. In the past, Sumner, in his 31st year at CdM, has had runners rock climb recreationally.
Sumner, who is 66, has seen a lot during his life. Not much fazes him. When Sumner saw pictures of Keith, his jaw dropped.
"He's upside down climbing on a rock, getting to the top of it," Sumner said. "I thought he was rock climbing, going down to Big Corona. He went to like the Elk [Mountains in Colorado]. He rock climbs at a high level. The stuff that he does is really risky. He just doesn't go out like these guys go to the gym and climb up the side of the wall. He's climbing a cliff. He's climbing upside down on some of this stuff. I told him, 'You can't be rock climbing. You got to train, dude.'"
Keith heeded Sumner's advice. The only climbing the senior does now is to the top of the 3,200-meter race. The event is Keith's favorite and he won it at the Orange County Championships on Saturday.
Before the senior recorded a personal-best time of 9 minutes, 16.75 seconds, Keith fell hard at the meet at Mission Viejo High. Five hours earlier, he crashed in the 1,600-seeded race. With less than a lap to go, and Keith in fifth place, a competitor kicked him in the left calf and down he went.
Keith had never fallen before while on the track. He knows any fall, whether climbing or running isn't good. Keith wasted little time, popping up after a double roll.
Four seconds were lost and his place in the race. All the while, Sumner had no idea.
"All of a sudden they were in the last lap, and I go, 'He's still running fast!'" Sumner said, "and then somebody says, 'He's in 14th place!' I go, 'What? How did he get in 14th place? What happened?' Everybody around me, they didn't know. Somebody said, 'Did you see him go down?'"
Sumner missed the spill, but Keith's reminded him of the one Sumner took in the 1,600 when he was in high school at Baldwin Park. At Mt. San Antonio College, back when it used to have sprinklers around the whole side, someone shoved Sumner and he stepped on a water pipe and fell over.
Like Keith, Sumner managed to rise back up and produce a personal record in the event. Sumner's time was a 4:19, a mark Keith might have hit, if someone had not accidentally kicked him.
Sumner relayed his story to Keith, whose calf wasn't the only body part that was sore afterward. Keith didn't even want to run the mile, except Sumner nudged him to improve his time in the 2 mile.
"You might be stuck with that your whole life. That might be your high school PR," Sumner joked with Keith, hoping to ease the pain of finishing 14th in 4:24.54. "I told him, 'That's not your best event anyway. Your best event is in front of you.'"
With such a long gap between his next race, Sumner told Keith to go home and grab lunch. Keith decided to spend it underneath a canopy at the meet.
"Why do you want to stay? Sumner asked Keith.
"I'm hanging out with my team," Keith responded.
Keith is the consummate team guy, always wanting to support teammates. Not all of CdM's athletes competed at the OC Championships. Sumner said some preferred to go to the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.
The stage Keith wanted to be a part of was the podium in the 3,200. With the postseason right around the corner, Keith used the meet to improve.
By the time the 3,200 came around, Keith was ready. He took the lead in the third lap, before Canyon's Wes Walsh went ahead. In the seventh lap, Keith surpassed him to beat him by almost 3 seconds.
There's not much stopping Keith. His goal is to reach the CIF State track and field meet for the first time. He made it in cross-country in the fall.
After high school, he's bound for Colorado State. Why Keith chose the school is easy.
"I like the atmosphere out there," Keith said of the Fort Collins campus. "It's in the mountains."
Whether he will return to rock climbing, Keith smiled and said, "We'll see."
Born: April 6, 1995
Hometown: Newport Beach
Weight: 140 pounds
Sport: Track and field
Coach: Bill Sumner
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"
Favorite athletic moment: Competing at the CIF State cross-country championships in the fall for the first time.
Week in review: Keith ran a personal-best time of 9 minutes, 16.75 seconds in winning the 3,200-meter event at the Orange County Championships. He also set personal record of 4:24.54 in the 1,600 and placed 14th.