Track community rallies around family of Warhill's Juan Spence


Nearly two months ago, Warhill High student Juan Spence had to fight for his life after sustaining critical injuries from a crash that left him pinned underneath the car he was riding in as a passenger.

Doctors then told his mother, Elizabeth Butler, that 95 percent of patients that undergo the head trauma Spence endured do not survive.

One month later in June, Spence was off of life-support and his family already thinking about rehab, though the Warhill track and field standout had yet to begin speaking again.

The news is even better in July. Butler said on Tuesday at the #JuanLove Track Camp that will benefit Spence, that Juan is now standing with help, walking with assistance, speaking in sentences and recalling memories.

"We're pretty amazed at his progress," Butler said. "He's working hard and getting stronger every day and looking forward to coming home soon."

The community seemed to instantly rally around the family. That support, and unwavering faith, Butler said, helped the family cope with the incident.

By June, the Team Flash track and field club had already joined forces with Jamestown track and field and the Greater Williamsburg Distance Running Club to organize the #JuanLove Track Camp, which started Monday and will conclude on Friday at Jamestown High.

Campers are participating in standard track and field drills but William Turner of Team Flash and Jamestown said the event was about more than track for two reasons: one, because the vision for the camp arose due to Spence's accident and two, because many of the young athletes involved primarily play other sports.

"It's really not about track and field," Turner said. "We're just using track and field as a vehicle to reach kids."

Turner said Melania Rinkin was instrumental in organizing the camp. Rinkin's husband, Ramon, is a Team Flash coach and their three children compete in the club that Butler also coaches for.

"With her helping Team Flash all these years," Rinkin said, "I just wanted to make sure we tried to do something to help her family."

Butler was a Lafayette High track standout before competing for VCU, where Spencer remains in the hospital and is receiving physical, occupational, rec, and speech and language therapy.

Butler's coach at Lafayette was Mel Jones, who stopped in at the camp Tuesday with a list of 28 character traits – to name a few; kindness, respect and integrity – that he felt embodied Spence before passing the traits on to the attendees.

Jones was one of several coaches helping out this week along with Christopher Newport University's Michael Hanks and CNU Hall of Famer Louis Johnson.

Local lended hands, too, like Jordan Willis and William Turner's son, Jordan. Jordan, son of Team Flash and Jamestown coach Clarence Willis, will compete for the University of Virginia in the fall and Jordan Turner for George Mason University.

Rising Lafayette sophomore Adam Leschinger is Spence's Team Flash teammate and offered a reminder of how tight-knit the local track community is. "All that rivalry between the high schools just goes away when something like this happens," he said. "It's pretty sweet how we can all just come together and work together even though we go to different schools."

Given an exemption by the school, Spence was able to complete his junior year with straight As.

Before the crash, he had qualified for the state meet in track in addition to serving as a key member of Warhill's basketball team last season and Butler said he wants to get back on the track and shooting hoops. He told her he wants to walk on his own and do everything he used to and more.

Butler said, "We believe that with the strength he has and with the fight in him, that he will."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

To donate to his medical expenses, visit:

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette