HR manager Don Spivey finds fitness a way to share strength, faith with colleagues and fellow racers
By Bill Richardson
For most of his 54 years, Don Spivey says he’s been running toward or away from something.
“Namely it was up and down the mountain for most of my childhood,” cracked Spivey, who for the past 3 1/2 years has been the human resources manager at the Vincennes SCHOTT Gemtron plant.
A native of Gate City, Virginia (population 2,034 as of the 2010 census), and owner of an engineering degree from New School University in New York City, Spivey is also a military veteran, having spent 8 1/2 years in the U.S. Navy. He was raised in a rural setting, on a family beef farm.
He’s an old hand at running road races, ranging anywhere from a mile in length to full 26.2-mile marathons. He’s so obsessive about it, he says, that he feels guilty when he’s not training for some kind of race or another.
“Once I got into a rhythm and am running at a good pace, it seemed like I could run for a long, long time,” he said. “If I wasn’t doing that, I truly missed it. I felt guilty, like I should always be training.”
Since he’s moved to Vincennes, though, Spivey has turned things up a notch. Not only has he continued to run races of all distances, but he’s also focused on triathlons, which start with a swim, followed by a bicycle ride and concluding with a run.
Although already fit, since starting to do triathlons, Spivey has dropped about 30 pounds and now tips the scales at a mere 150.
“Running triathlons seemed like a pretty good way to get in shape,” he said. “I felt like I needed to lose some weight, and it seemed like a way to gain some basic fitness.”
Spivey has exclusively competed in “sprint triathlons” to date. These are usually made up of a swim of from 200 yards to a half-mile in distance, a 10- to-16-mile bike ride and a 5K run at the end.
“I can usually finish one in a little over an hour,” Spivey said.
The sprint triathlons, according to Spivey, offer different challenges than a road race, even a long one.
“You’re not using just one group of muscles (in a sprint triathlon),” he said. “It’s much more difficult than doing even a half-marathon. You’re using different muscle groups. You’re using them back-to-back and you’re trying to do it as fast as you can.”
A commitment of time
While he certainly enjoys the sprint marathons, the long-term goal is to compete in an “Iron Man Triathlon,” which is a true test of mental and physical fitness. An Iron Man Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride before running a full 26.2-mile marathon. Often times, the competition is made even more grueling, due to hot weather or hilly conditions.
“That’s going to require a lot more of a time commitment on my part,” he said. “Training (for an Iron Man) is like having a second job. But in the next two years I’m hoping to get a full Iron Man in. It may not work out that way, but that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
Most Iron Man events have a time limit of 17 hours to complete the race. Iron Man races typically start at 7 a.m. The swimming portion of the races is cut off after two hours and 20 minutes, while the mandatory cutoff time to finish the bike ride is eight hours and 10 minutes. The marathon is cut off after six hours and 30 minutes.
Spivey uses his love of fitness to his advantage in a variety of ways. He says it’s helped at work, and home and with fellow Christians.
As human resources manager at Gemtron, he says he’s concerned about the general physical fitness of the employees. To that end, he’s implemented a variety of incentives for the workers, if they’re interested in training. Throughout the year, Gemtron employees take part in team competitions to help stay in shape.
“One of the things I promote at the plant is to get the folks out and training,” he said.
He said the program is promoted as “a training plan.”
“You don’t have to do an Iron Man,” he said. “But if you train and want to run some kind of race, we’ll pay the race fee.”
Training also allows Spivey to have a unique relationship with his wife of 34 years, Lisa. She’s a fitness nut as well, and the two make it a point to train together at times. The couple especially enjoys taking bicycle tours together, and recently took part in a 100-mile event near Indiana Dunes.
“Because we train together, we get to spend a lot of time together,” he said. “It might not all be quality time, especially when the training is hard. Sometimes I get tired and then I get grumpy. But I like to train with her.”
Spivey also uses his passion for fitness to promote his Christian faith. During a recent marathon, he said, he thanked God as he passed each mile marker.
“I thanked God for the opportunity to be there,” he said. “Every time (I passed a marker) I thanked him for one more mile. I thanked him for Mile 14, then for Mile 15. I thanked him for every mile, right up to the finish.”
During a competition, Spivey will often stop to encourage a struggling racer, though it sometimes results in a slower finish.
“Someone asked me why I didn’t finish the Indy Marathon faster than what I did,” said Spivey. “I said, ‘I stopped to talk to a few brothers along the way, and I gave thanks 47 times.’ It was awesome.”
Often times, he says, he encourages the fellow competitors with Biblical passages. His favorite is Isaiah 40, which is often times comforting to weary people.
You’d think Spivey would be plenty weary, himself. Depending on what he’s preparing for, he’s training five or six days a week, sometimes running for as long as five hours at a time.
But with Iron Man dreams, he knows it’s time to double down.
“At my age, the clock is ticking,” he said.
He’s never been one to back down from a challenge. Don’t bet against him.