CHESAPEAKE, Ohio – Chesapeake High School’s Atiya Spaulding experienced something Wednesday afternoon she thought would never happen.
The multisport star was joined by family members and friends at a letter-of-intent signing ceremony to continue her track-and-field career at Ohio University in the Mid-American Conference.
Spaulding tore the ACL in her left knee Dec. 19, 2015, had surgery and missed the rest of her senior basketball season.
“It’s amazing,” Spaulding said. “I thought my dreams and chances were over. Then I was blessed with recovery time, therapy, a support system and I made it.”
Spaulding’s desire to continue in track was evident when she met with Ohio coaches in February during the Marshall Invitational. Until then, she’d attracted little college attention.
“I introduced myself and didn’t give them much of a chance to tell me no,” Spaulding said. “I told them (Ohio coach Clay Calkins) my name, stats, all my PRs (personal records), he said he’d like to get in touch with me and I thought we’ll see where it goes from here.”
She visited the Athens, Ohio, school later, and Wednesday her dream came true.
“I knew it was the perfect place,” Spaulding said. “I’d hoped to go there since my freshman year. I love that place.”
Spaulding doesn’t know what her events in college will be. She holds Chesapeake school records in the 100, 200, 300 hurdles and high jump. She’s been All-Ohio Valley Conference, All-Southeast District and All-Ohio. There’s talk of the heptathlon. The seven events in that rotation are 100 hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200, long jump, javelin and 800. The two she’s not done are javelin and 800.
Specialist is not a word that applies to Spaulding as she took part in sports in all three seasons (basketball, volleyball, track). She also played for the D-1 Greyhounds in travel basketball.
“I would never change anything,” she said. “You get your hopes up. I’m stronger for my accident. I guess it taught me how to deal with life when it throws you curve balls. It’s a hard thing to go through. It’s made me who I am.”
While in college, Spaulding will get to compete close to home as the Bobcats compete in two indoor meets at Marshall.
Chesapeake girls track coach Cathy Cheek believed this day would come for Spaulding even with the injury.
“The first time I saw her high jump (freshman year), I knew she would go to college,” Cheek said. "She’s the hardest working athlete I know. There’d be times it was totally dark, she’d be jumping and we had to drag her away. There’s no one more deserving. She’s doing all she can to get back to where she can compete.
“ACL injuries are different today. Sometimes track athletes come back stronger. She has that natural ability and work ethic. She’s come so far since the surgery. OU has ideas about what they want her to do.”
With Spaulding sidelined, Cheek knew that would mean the absence of some 30 or more points per meet. Still, Spaudling is finding ways to contribute.
“She’s a leader. She’s still there,” Cheek said. “When she’s not at rehab, she’s here and helps coaching.”
Spaulding enjoys the role knowing she gets to help in some way during her final year.
“I’m kind of the assistant coach and told no one about it,” Spaulding said. “I love the sport. If I can help someone else love the sport the way I do, that’s what I want to do.”