Spencer Fehlberg’s road to the NCAA Track and Field Championships is unlike any other.
After all, here is a young man who was out of competitive running for four years after graduating from Emery High School in Castle Dale, Utah.
Fehlberg was a six-time letterwinner in cross-country, track and field and wrestling for the Spartans, recording personal-best times of 2:01 in the 800 meters, 4:43 in the mile and 16:36 in the 1,500 meters.
Despite that, no offers came for him to continue his running career at the next level, so he enrolled at the University of Utah, where he just focused on academics. Following his first year at Utah, Fehlberg chose to serve an LDS Church Mission to West Virginia from 2012-14.
Upon his return, Fehlberg picked up his academics right where he left off, returning to the U. However, his life path soon took a different course and he found his way back to competing in the sport he loves.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” said Fehlberg, when asked what influenced him to give competitive running another shot. “When I was in high school, it was always my dream and my motivation. A lot of that came from my high school coach, Darrell Gardner. He really saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. When he died before my senior year, that was really hard for me to get over.
“From that point on, it seemed like I was done. When I came home from my mission, I had no intentions of getting back into it. Without going into too much detail, I dreamed that I got to say goodbye to him and when I woke up, I knew that I needed to give it another shot. I called up (former USU distance) coach (Steve) Reeder and said, ‘I’m up here at the U, I’m not running, what would it take to make your team?’ He said, ‘I remember you. Why don’t you come down and visit with me? I think you could do it.’ From that point on, he always spoke of me making the team instead of maybe making the team, and that just fueled my fire.”
That burning desire to compete again paid off in a big way for Fehlberg. He tried out for the team at the 2015 Aggie Invitational, Utah State’s season-opening cross-country meet, and finished ninth overall in the 7-kilometer race with a time of 21:23.88.
Fehlberg passed the test. He made the team as a walk-on. Fast forward to the present, and the recent mechanical engineering graduate will end his career as an All-American.
“Spencer has an incredible story,” said USU assistant cross-country/track and field coach Sarah Griggs, who works with the Aggie distance runners. “He was not recruited out of high school. He didn’t compete for four years after high school before coming and working his way onto our team. He had to try out for the team and walk on. He is a prime example of how hard work and dedication can get you really far.
“He’s had some injuries and it’s been a hard road in a lot of ways,” Griggs continued, “but he’s worked his tail off, and it has really paid off. So, to see his success, to go from a tryout walk-on to an All-American, is pretty incredible.”
It certainly is.
Fehlberg made history last weekend when he became the first Aggie on the men’s side to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Fehlberg officially punched his ticket to Eugene by placing second in his heat and 12th overall with a personal-best time of 8:44.65 at the NCAA West Prelims at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California.
“It’s really indescribable the feelings I felt when I crossed the line realizing what I had just accomplished,” Fehlberg said. “I had feelings of gratitude, feelings of amazement and so much joy to finally have accomplished something that for so long I had told myself was impossible.”
Fehlberg’s accomplishment had both Griggs and USU head cross-country coach Artie Gulden in tears.
“I was kind of jumping around like an idiot in the stands, and then when we were walking back to the cool-down area and I saw that it got to Sarah and she was in tears, then I was in tears, too,” Gulden said after the race. “It is so amazing and I am super proud of him.”
Griggs echoed Gulden’s feelings.
“That’s why I coach; to be able to be there for those moments, to see when their dreams become a reality. Seeing him qualify, I was pretty emotional, just because I know how hard he’s worked and how many things he’s had to overcome to get there.”
Fehlberg’s time of 8:44.65 at the NCAA West Prelims ranks third all-time in school history. He is one of six Aggies that qualified for the NCAA Championships, which will be held Wednesday through Saturday, June 6-9, at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
“It means the whole world to me,” said the 25-year-old Fehlberg. “I wasn’t good enough for any team when I came out of high school, and if you would’ve told me that I was going to go to Eugene, I would’ve laughed at you.”
By just punching a ticket to Eugene, Fehlberg assured himself of being an All-American. The top-eight finishers in each event earn first-team honors, the next eight placers garner second-team accolades and the final eight finishers are tabbed honorable mention.
“Spencer has been a great leader on our team,” Griggs said. “His success story is one I will tell for many years to come, in showing that if you put in the dedication and hard work, you can do great things.”
Fehlberg will be the first of those six Aggies to compete in Eugene as the semifinals of the steeplechase are slated for 6:02 p.m. MT, on Wednesday at Hayward Field.
“My first goal is to make the final, so race similar to how I did in Sacramento and not worry too much about the time, but worry about doing whatever it takes to make the final, and then take the next race when it comes,” Fehlberg said.
Fehlberg credits former Aggie distance runner Colby Wilson, USU’s record holder in the steeplechase with a time of 8:40.73 set in 2016, with helping him become the runner he is today.
“He is one of the greatest friends that I was able to come in contact with here,” Fehlberg said. “His positive influence and his encouragement, it was a big motivation for me to qualify for nationals because he never got the chance to compete there. I knew he was capable of it, but he just never was able to put it together. I wanted to do that for him, so he was a big motivator for me.”
Prior to the NCAA West Prelims, Fehlberg earned his first all-Mountain West accolade by finishing second in the finals of the steeplechase (9:02.74) at the Outdoor Championships in Clovis, California.
“It’s always been kind of a chip on my shoulder to be out to prove that no matter where you come from, if you work hard and stick with it, you can achieve greatness,” Fehlberg said. “I never thought that I would achieve this level of success. I just hope that there are kids where I am from, or small towns everywhere, that can look at what I’ve done and say, ‘If he can do it, then maybe I can do it, too.’”
Fehlberg has also excelled in the classroom during his time at Utah State. The native of Huntington, Utah, is a five-time academic all-Mountain West honoree and three-time MW Scholar-Athlete. He graduated from USU with an overall grade-point average of 3.88.
June is shaping up to be a big month for Fehlberg. Not only is he competing at the NCAA Championships, but the son of Reed and Carma Fehlberg is also getting married on June 23 to Nikki Rogers.
Schooling is not over for Fehlberg, though. He is headed to Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana, to pursue his master’s degree in mechanical engineering with the dream of one day working for NASA.
“I am so grateful for all the coaches and friends that have encouraged me along the way and helped me to get where I am, because I couldn’t have done it on my own,” Fehlberg said.