Auburn Riverside's Spencer Jones returns to the mat
By SHAWN SKAGER
Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter
January 30, 2013 · Updated 5:50 PM
Walking away would have been the easier choice for Auburn Riverside senior Spencer Jones.
Three years ago Jones – who has been wrestling since age 4 – was an up-and-coming, 135-pound freshman on the Raven squad. His wrestling future looked bright.
Then, just after the league tourney, during a visit to the doctor, Jones got bad news. He had spinal stenosis.
“My bone is too big for my spinal cord, so in certain conditions it pinches my spinal cord,” Jones said. “It was really hard to hear. I cried when I got the news.”
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the nerves there. The condition often left Jones’ left arm numb and useless, with pain like electric shocks shooting down his arm. Something as simple as rolling on his neck the wrong way, Jones said, would bring on the pain.
“I didn’t believe it at first, I didn’t think something like that could happen,” Jones said. “They said it was just something that I grew into.”
Although his doctor told him he would most likely grow out of the condition by age 25, Jones made the tough choice and curtailed his on-the-mat career.
“The doctor never really gave me a no,” Jones said. “He told me that the choice was mine.”
Despite choosing not to wrestle, Jones couldn’t completely remove himself from the gym.
“As a sophomore, I helped score, video tape, set up mats, anything I could help with,” he said.
Recognizing Jones’ dedication to the sport, Raven wrestling coach Steve Mead made an unusual decision.
“I decided not to make him a manager,” Mead said. “I decided to make him a coach. He probably wasn’t old enough as a sophomore for the other kids to buy in and believe he could help. So I put him in charge of the younger kids.”
By the time Jones was a junior, Mead said, he had progressed and was working with all of the wrestlers on the squad.
Although he got a bit of a wrestling fix helping his teammates, Jones said it was still hard to stay away from the mat.
“It was really hard, I’d sometimes go home really depressed,” he said.
To fill the void he found a new hobby.
“I started culinary arts, and that became my new thing,” Jones said. “I plan on opening a restaurant some day.”
Despite his newfound passion for cooking, Jones said, he couldn’t pass up his final chance to wrestle as a prep athlete.
“This year, as a senior, I couldn’t take watching the other kids wrestle, so I decided to give it a shot,” he said.
Mead said that when the time came for the squad to vote on team captains this year, the team overwhelmingly picked Jones.
“They voted him a captain without even knowing he was going to wrestle this year,” Mead said.
Although Jones admits that his comeback hasn’t been spectacular results-wise – he is 1-3 in dual competitions and recently won the Bonney Lake junior varsity tournament – the whole experience has taught him a valuable lesson.
“LIfe throws tough stuff at you,” he said. “You can’t stay at home and stay sorry for yourself. You just have to pick yourself up.”
And, more important, it showed him that it’s possible to stay involved in the sport he loves after his on-the-mat wrestling career ends.
“I’d love to become a head coach,” Jones said.
Mead said it would be a perfect fit for Jones.
“I don’t see most of the kids going into coaching,” Mead said. “I talk to all the kids about refereeing and giving back to the sport. But Spencer I see going on and coaching.”
Contact Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter Shawn Skager at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 833-0218, ext. 5054.