Spanier's gymnastic dreams land in Iowa

Published: Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 at 9:49 p.m.

Long before he was earning medals or hearing from college coaches, David Spanier had a knack for scaring his mother.

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David Spanier, left, poses next to his Sun Country coach Mark Nelson after signing with Iowa in November.

Photo submitted by Barbara Spanier

At their home in Gainesville, Barbara Spanier would often peek out the back window to check on her 8-year-old son playing in the yard, hoping to see him harmlessly kick a soccer ball around.

Instead, the future University of Iowa gymnast showed a frightening inclination for flying through the air.

“He'd be in our backyard just doing back flips, and he'd be doing all these things,” Barbara Spanier said. “I was like, ‘He needs to learn how to do this, so he doesn't get hurt.' ”

After training at the Sun Country Sports Center for last 11 years, Spanier's natural ability slowly developed into an elite skill set, culminating with him signing with the Hawkeyes last November.

While Spanier's interest in youth gymnastics required a large financial commitment from his parents, the 19-year-old Gainesville High graduate also realized he would have to pay a price for his love of the sport.

“I've been hurt quite a bit,” he said. “Last year, I messed up my PCL in my knee, and I sprained or tore something in my (right) ankle. I'm still not entirely sure what exactly happened to it, but it was pretty bad.”

Spanier moved to Iowa City, Iowa this week to continue rehabilitation for a torn labrum in his left shoulder, which has required two surgeries in the last three years.

He almost quit the sport during his injury-riddled junior season — a critical time to get attention from college recruiters. Altogether, there are only 16 Division-I colleges that offer scholarships for men's gymnastics, making it easy for struggling athletes to go overlooked.

“There's absolutely no D-I colleges in this state or even in this region, although a lot of the best gymnasts in the country come out of this state,” said Mark Nelson, who has coached at Sun Country Sports since 1992. “Our state is very strong, it's just too bad there's not more teams here.”

Nelson, who was an Iowa gymnast from 1981-1982, has sent six of his athletes to Division-I schools on scholarships in the last six years, including Hawkeyes graduates Tom Buese and Jonathan Buese.

However, when Spanier was left off the Region 8 team at the U.S. Men's Junior Olympics in Cincinnati last May after making the squad as a sophomore, he realized his chances to earn a scholarship were at a breaking point.

“He had a hard time last year, where he was ready to give it all up,” Barbara Spanier said. “He had worked really hard and come back from injuries, and then he had a knee injury and an ankle injury. It was a really difficult time.”

With mostly walk-on offers to his name, Spanier opened a YouTube account and started sending highlight videos of his healthy performances to college coaches.

Among those who showed immediate interest was Iowa coach J.D. Reive, who also coached Sun Country Sports alumnus John Martin while he was at Stanford.

“I knew junior year was the year all the recruitment processes would be starting, and it was kind of time to get after it,” Spanier said. “I put out a video and after that even the coach at Iowa was like, ‘Oh wow, this is kind of surprising. We'll be able to get you more money than we thought we were going to give you.'”

After accepting a 60-percent scholarship, Spanier anticipates he will contribute mostly on floor routines and the vault during his freshman season with the Hawkeyes.

His first collegiate meet does not start until January, meaning Spanier finally has plenty of time to get healthy.

“He's going to do great,” Nelson said. “Just because I've been doing this for so long, I never know which turtle is going to make it to the ocean. You never know, but I saw the potential that he could do it.”

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