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Throwing a javelin again

Stuart Spangenberg ’81 rebounded from injuries to win gold USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championship.

Stuart Spangenberg, javelin champion

Stuart Spangenberg.

Throwing a javelin again

Stuart Spangenberg ’81 rebounded from injuries to win gold USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championship.

Stuart Spangenberg ’81 walked on to the track team as a freshman in 1978 and looked the part. Broad-chested and long-armed, he naturally gravitated to a specialty that few had tried: javelin.

He got the hang of it quickly. As a sophomore, Spangenberg had broken the school record in the event with a throw of 215 feet, 5 inches and competed with the best in the Southwest Conference.

But before his Junior year season began, he injured his elbow and never threw again as a Horned Frog. “I probably needed to get Tommy John surgery to replace the tendon, but it wasn’t something easily available,” said Spangenberg from his native Melbourne, Fla. “So, basically, I retired.”

Almost 37 years later, he picked up the sport again. As his identical twin boys entered middle school and began competing for the track team, they asked Spangenberg to teach them shot put and long jump. He showed them some of his past glories and it got him wondering: Are there any competitions for old guys?

“It was a process of two steps forward and one step back.”
Stuart Spangenberg

There were, and the 56-year-old Spangenberg began working out alongside his kids. But after four lumbar back surgeries and nerve damage in both legs, he faced a steep climb even to compete.

Throwing the javelin exerts force on the whole body, putting strain from the toes to the fingertips. Competitors run a full sprint with a 1.8-pound spear, shift all of their weight to a plant leg and torque their torso around and forward, with the arm whipping overhead at release.

“My biggest challenge was the run-up,” Spangenberg said. “At first, I couldn’t put four strides together.”

But he kept at it for a year until he could manage a full speed run up. To build up shoulder, arm and back strength, he lifted weights, threw weighted balls and did copious stretching to loosen up his core. “I literally pulled or strained every possible muscle in my hips and legs at one time or another over those twelve months. It was a process of two steps forward and one step back.”

In July, he entered the 55-59 age division at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championship in Jacksonville, Fla., and managed a throw of 175 feet, 3 inches.

It was good enough for the gold medal.

At the National Senior Games in Minneapolis, he broke the meet record by ten feet with a heave of 186 feet, 6 inches. The distance ranks him fourth in the world for his age group.

“I’m behind a Ukrainian, a Spaniard and a Latvian,” he jokes, adding that he’d like to continue throwing and maybe even compete internationally.

When he’s not at the track, Spangenberg is a clinical social worker and wellness coach with the Veterans Affairs clinic in Viera, Fla., working as a Suicide Prevention Case Manager as well as helping homeless veterans. Before that, he spent 14 years as a licensed psychotherapist in private practice and runs a personal health website called solutionstoaging.com.

Throwing the javelin has been a helpful motivator for his own wellness.

“The most important thing is to visualize your goal and be joyful.   This is best way to manifest what we want. Overcoming four back surgeries to now winning gold is my personal triumph.”