Community rallies around Warhill track star critically injured in accident

Contact Reporterawilliams@vagazette.com

The Spence family thought they'd be watching their Warhill track star racing at the regional track meet Thursday.

Instead, they have barely left Juan Spence's bedside at the MCV hospital at Virginia Commonwealth University. It's been a sleepless week, Juan's uncle Kelly Spence said.

On Monday, the car Juan was riding in with his friend Ruben Davila rolled, coming to a stop on its roof — and on Juan. Police said the 17-year-old passenger was pinned underneath the 2016 Mazda; officers pointed to speed and wet roads as contributors to the crash.

The students were less than a half-mile from Warhill High School, where their last class of the day let out at 2:20 p.m. Eighteen-year-old Davila, who was driving, walked away with minor injuries. He was wearing his seat belt; Juan was not.

"He's doing good, showing unusual progress given the situation, still in the fight for his life for sure, still on life support, but he's doing good," Spence said. "He's beat all odds from the level of trauma he was in when he came in, to where he is now. A lot of victories have happened this week which leaves everyone hopeful — but we're not there yet."

Juan is stable, but still critically injured, Spence said.

Davila, a senior set to graduate in less than a month, is close with Juan, who is one grade below, Spence said.

"(Davila) has been weeping at his bedside all week long," Spence said.

Juan and Davila have been integral members of Warhill's track and field team this season.

A high achiever in school, Spence said Juan is involved in several clubs and activities. In addition to athletics, he participates in National Honor Society and serves on a school division advisory council. He spends summers pounding away at enrichment programs at the University of Virginia.

He wants to run track for Yale or U.Va; he wants to become a neurosurgeon.

"He'll always be known for his work ethic, there's always one gear he's stuck in and can't get out of," Spence said. "Kids out there, they can be whatever they want to be if they just put in a lot of hard work like Juan. He trained so hard, he knew what he wanted to do and he went for it."

Spence said mostly their family is grateful for the community that has rallied around Juan since Monday. He said fundraisers and benefits are being organized so quickly the family can't even keep track.

The family is close, Spence said. He lives in Richmond, but he has been very involved with Juan's life, especially his sports training. Juan lives in James City County with his mom, stepfather and two younger siblings — a sister and baby brother.

"The community is reflecting our family, the way our family is so close and connected," Spence said. "It's like an extension of our family."

A GoFundMe page set up by a relative topped $8,500 in three days, $500 more than its original goal. More than 200 people contributed to help offset medical costs as of Friday.

Students from schools around the area have taken to social media to share their support, many using the hashtag #JuansWorld. Warhill students held a vigil for Juan Wednesday night, and each of W-JCC's three high schools painted the school spirit rocks in Warhill colors.

Lafayette'srock says "WHS in our hearts" with a heart drawn instead of the word, and Jamestown's is a brilliant blue with a small paw print next to a heart. Warhill's says, "Stay strong Ruben and Juan."

Community members have rallied around the family in other ways. A neighbor crowd-funded every meal through June 9 using the online service Meal Train. As of Friday, 23 people signed up to provide the family with each day's dinner; options range from pizza to barbecue to tacos.

According to the Meal Train page, it was established to help the family as they travel back-and-forth to Richmond to visit Juan. Spence said he doesn't know how long Juan will stay in the intensive care unit — head injuries are unpredictable.

He said Juan has a lot of plans this summer, volunteering at Sentara Hospital and participating in another U.Va enrichment course.

"As much as he's been fighting, I wouldn't be surprised if he still does that," Spence said. "If anyone can do it it'd be Juan."

Spence said Juan was eager to compete at the state track competition next week.

On May 17, Juan won the high jump at a conference competition and was qualified to compete in the state meet next Friday and Saturday. He was also on the 4x100-meter relay team that was closing in on a race time fast enough to qualify for the state competition.

That relay team was supposed to compete Thursday at the 3A East Region meet in Suffolk.

"After the situation, I sat down and talked to the other three boys and the alternate," Warhill coach Kenaan Canady said. "They all agreed and said they didn't feel right about doing it without him. As a coach, I respected their decision and had their backs 100 percent."

Canady said about 90 percent of his regional qualifiers participated in Thursday's meet. The burden of the crash weighed too heavily on a few who chose not to race Thursday.

"The team was like, 'We know who we are doing this for now,'" Canady said. "They bounced back extremely well. For such a young group, (Thursday) was a relief on my part and my coaching staff just because we knew how hard it was on them."

Canady described Juan — who was also a key player on Warhill's boy's basketball team last season — as a hard worker and bright student.

"He's just so free-natured," Canady said. "He's happy, smiling — not a care in the world."

Staff Writer Kellen Holtzman contributed to this report.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Want to help:

Donate to the family's gofundme at www.gofundme.com/rising-money-for-juan

Sign up to provide a meal at www.mealtrain.com/trains/5nmm9r

Fundraiser concert by local band In Layman Terms from 8-11 p.m. Saturday at Daddyo's in Norge, at 7500 Richmond Road. For more information: bit.ly/2rZt0LA

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