University of Georgia senior Christian Spence has always enjoyed running, which has been his preferred method of staying fit, relieving stress and keeping a clear head.
And now Spence is putting his pastime to a good purpose as he tackles an ultramarathon to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s Disease through the Parkinson’s Foundation’s Going the Distance for PD program.
“I am by no means a prolific runner or am I great at running,” said Spence, who is majoring in biology with a neuroscience emphasis and plans to graduate in May. “I can run long distances if I train really hard but I’m not a record-breaker. That’s not me.
“But one of the things I love about this fundraiser is that it is me. This is me pushing my comfort zone and this is me doing something that isn’t a cakewalk.”
Spence is the son of Amanda and Mark Spence. He grew up in Marietta and transferred to UGA from Auburn during his sophomore year and will participate in The Longest Night Backyard Elimination Race at The Preserve in Mauldin, South Carolina, just outside of Greenville.
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He will run in the Longest Night 50k (about 31 miles), which begins at 11:25 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16 and ends at 8:10 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17.
Spence’s interest in Parkinson’s is personal, as his father was diagnosed with the chronic neurological disorder several years ago.
“My dad was diagnosed when I was in high school,” he said. “It was definitely one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to deal with. It’s his fight, and it’s been so hard on my parents, but their resolve has never wavered. They’ve never abandoned hope. That’s something anyone can relate to and be proud of.
“My parents are two of the strongest people I know. I always wanted to do something to try to exhibit some of that same strength they’ve shown. I always wanted to be strong for them. Over the summer, I had a realization to do something cool, endurance-wise, and to do something for my parents, who have always been strong for me and my sisters.”
After getting in touch with the Parkinson’s Foundation and getting a quick primer in fundraising, Spence and Kelton Williamson, a friend from Auburn who has provided a helping hand throughout the process, announced his intention to take on an ultramarathon to benefit the foundation.
“We didn’t know where to set the goal – we didn’t want it to be ridiculous and make it way too high,” he said. “We decided on $10,000, and within a week we hit that goal. We decided to keep going and made the next goal $25,000 and right now, we’re at about $20,000.
“The fundraiser could have stopped the day we announced it and it would have been a win. We’ve been in disbelief of how it’s gone so far and we’re so excited with the response and how generous everyone has been.”
Funding has come from a variety of sources and Spence has also received in-kind help from Athens Running Company (which has provided gear and supplies) and Athletic Greens has contributed nutritional products.
“The positive reception the fundraiser has gotten from my family and friends has been one of the most incredible and inspiring things in my life,” said Spence, who is raffling off a new PlayStation 5 and a Dyson Airwrap to goose donations. “The reception and the progress I’ve made has been mainly because of my supporters back home and my supporters here in Athens.”
In preparation for the ultramarathon, Spence has been training through the fall and running three or four times a week, varying his workouts between 3-mile, 7-to-9-mile and 15-mile outings.
“I run as often as can but doing that with classes is definitely a challenge,” he said. “I want to avoid over-training, so I’ve been going out about three or four times a week. I don’t want to get injured. … I’m not a pro, so I train based on how I feel. I feel I’ve been training well, an appropriate amount.”
He ran in the Hotlanta Half Marathon this summer and has run in numerous 5k races, but the ultramarathon will be his first long-distance feat.
“That’s why I’m pushing myself,” said Spence. “It’s not stepping outside of my comfort zone if I’ve done it a hundred times.”
When asked his parents’ reaction to his ultramarathon plans, Spence said, “They’re proud of me and really stoked about it, although my mom has said, ‘Please don’t hurt yourself.’ I think it’s been good in our community, seeing everybody come together, and the support has meant the world to my family.”
For more information and to make a donation, visit www.parkinson.org/goingthedistance.