Clayton Spencer completed every item on his bucket list for his competitive gymnastics career.
A 2015 graduate of Lakewood Ranch, he came back from a knee injury to reach Level 10 status. He qualified for the 2015 Junior Olympic National Gymnastics Championships, at which he finished fifth on floor exercise and 10th in the all-around. And perhaps, most importantly, he learned the value of hard work and dedication.
Following the JO National Gymnastics Championships, Spencer was invited to become an elite, but he ultimately turned the offer down.
Spencer, 19, was ready for a new challenge. He wanted to be a coach and help shape other young gymnasts the same way his coach, Jason Collins, had done with him.
“I would say that the day Clayton decided to not continue on into elite gymnastics was perhaps, strangely enough, the most accomplished day of my life,” Collins said. “He said to me, ‘I’ve done all I want to do as a gymnast and more, and now I want to turn the chapter and I want you to teach me how to be a coach.’ Hands down the most humbling and largest compliment I have ever had.”
Shortly thereafter, Spencer began coaching alongside Collins at EVO Athletics where Collins is a co-owner, as well as vice president and chief athletics officer, team coordinator and director and head coach of the men’s gymnastics team.
“It’s like turning the page,” Spencer said. “Coaching is never boring. It gives you an adrenaline rush when you see the kids running across the floor.”
As an assistant coach for the boys gymnastics team as well as the boys recreational development coach, Spencer hopes to pass on his experiences from competing with the next set of aspiring young gymnasts to create the future for elite gymnastics.
Only a year removed from competition, Spencer, who also attends the State College of Florida, isn’t afraid to hop up on an apparatus from time to time and demonstrate a skill — much to the delight of his gymnasts.
He’s also able to relate to the fear that comes along with learning a new skill.
“I wasn’t gutsy,” Spencer said. “I had to take steps when it came to learning new skills. I got scared too, but eventually you get past the fear and overcome it.”
Spencer got his first glimpse of recreational gymnastics when he was 11 years old. His sister, Emilee, attended a recreational class. After Spencer saw his sister doing flips around the gym, he decided he wanted to try it, too.
He was invited to try out a boys class and eventually joined the team. Spencer quickly gravitated toward gymnastics and continued to grow in the sport until a knee injury at age 16 forced him to take a step back. Spencer tore his anterior cruciate ligament, his medial collateral ligament and his lateral meniscus. He spent nine months away from the gym rehabilitating his knee.
During his recovery, Spencer met Collins and the two instantly connected. Spencer had found his new coach.
“When I met Clayton, he was recovering from a knee injury and his talent was being neglected,” Collins said. “As he realized his talent, it was evident that what he needed most was a coach who believed in him.”
Under Collins’ guidance, Spencer’s grades improved, his gymnastics became better and his joy and work ethic began to flourish.
Now Spencer brings that same work ethic he had as a rising gymnast to the gym every day as a coach.
“Clayton brings a work ethic that is unmatched by 50-year-old men, let alone 19-year-old men,” Collins said.
He has helped set the standard for the future of EVO Athletics’ boys program through his hard work and willingness to do whatever it takes to land success. It’s that combination of trust and being a role model that Spencer enjoys the most about his new career.
While he didn’t realize how good he was at coaching until Collins pointed it out, Spencer is confident he made the right decision.
“I love working with kids,” Spencer said. “I enjoy it. It’s fun and different every day, and you get to change people’s lives.”