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South Medford grad tackles grueling run in relief effort

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Spencer Fowler knows about clawing back from adversity.

Now, the 2020 South Medford High graduate wants to help his community do that in the wake of September wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and displaced many more residents.

He will undertake an extreme physical challenge — running 4 miles every 4 hours over a 48-hour stretch — and has created a GoFundMe page to raise awareness of his relief effort. His Southern Oregon Fires Fundraiser page goal is $48,000, and more than $12,000 has been donated in less than two weeks.

The run is scheduled for March 5-7 at the South Medford High track, pending approval from the school district.

It was only two years ago that Fowler, a junior football and track athlete for the Panthers, suffered two serious head injuries during the fall season and spent the next 11/2 years recuperating and relearning tasks most of us take for granted, such as talking and driving, he said.

When he was finally cleared for activity, the only one of his prep athletic seasons left was track as a senior last spring. That was then wiped out by COVID-19.

“That was a really big injury for me,” said Fowler, 19, and a freshman at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, referring to separate concussive incidents in the gym and during a football game. “And when COVID hit and took my track season away, I was pretty bummed out. I recovered and was working from 4:30 in the morning to 8 at night just training and working hard in school.”

Fowler, who competed in the 100 and 200 meters and the 400 relay, is now in top physical condition through weight training, running and mountain biking, as well as practicing jiujitsu.

An aspiring Navy SEAL, he’s drawn inspiration from a book, “Can’t Hurt Me,” by renowned tough man David Goggins. Goggins is the only U.S. military member to complete Navy SEAL, Army Ranger and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training. He holds the Guinness world record for pull-ups and is among the world’s top endurance athletes.

The book resonated with Fowler, spoke to his hardships, and within it was the notion of the 4x4x48 run.

“When you meet adversity, you have two choices,” said Fowler, “to either wallow in it or take it and move forward and evolve. And that’s what I plan to do on this run. I want to be a different person after this run, and I want the community to be a different community after this run.”

Fowler remembers going to school in Bend two days after the Almeda and South Obenchain fires. On his GoFundMe page, he says he felt like a “coward” for leaving behind so many friends and peers left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the devastation.

“I saw this adversity my community was going through,” he said, “and I just wanted to help. When I left for Bend, I just had this pit in my stomach.”

Fowler’s own challenges began two years prior.

The first head injury occurred when, following football practice, he was in the gym doing a dance routine for the school’s annual Milli Vanilli lip-syncing contest. He attempted a backflip, he said, but his shoes were slippery with wet grass and he took “like a 7-foot free fall right on my head.”

Fowler said the injury didn’t appear serious. However, when he caught a pass sometime later in a football game and was tackled hard, the effects of the hit, he was told by doctors, were compounded by his previous injury.

“I had to learn to drive again, talk again,” said Fowler. “I had to take memory classes and cognitive classes. I had to get CAT scans to check for brain bleeds, and I had to take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication because the chemicals in my brain were messed up.”

The work to get back to a normal life paid off when he was cleared in 2019, and he’s now ready to put in the work to help wildfire victims, some of whom were teachers of his, return to normalcy.

Fowler plans to set up his family’s RV at the South Medford track, where he’ll eat and sleep for two days.

Having to stop after running 4 miles, then go again, will be the most demanding physical aspect. He’ll need leg massages for about an hour after each run, he said, to prevent the buildup of lactic acid in his muscles.

Sleep deprivation will be another obstacle.

“It’s going to be more of a mental game than a physical game, for sure,” said Fowler, who is studying exercise science. “You just have to keep pushing through.”

The degree of difficulty will only increase as the run continues.

“I am definitely nervous,” he said, “just because I’m a sprinter but I also like to jack around some iron in the weight room. I’ve never run anything past 8 miles in my entire life, but I’m pretty active. I’d be silly to say, oh, I’m not nervous, because I know this is going to be a fight against myself.”

Fowler’s preparation days have been busy. He lifts weights in the morning, focusing on muscle stabilization, does his schoolwork during the day, then runs 3 to 8 miles, depending on how he feels and his schedule.

Next week will be his peak week of training. He’ll run a half-marathon on Monday, then he’ll do 6 miles every 6 hours over 48 hours.

He’ll have a couple weeks to recover before the real thing.

In addition to the GoFundMe page, Fowler said he is contacting businesses for support and encourages anyone who wants to run with him to come out. He hasn’t had any takers for the full run, but, he said, some Army National Guard members have offered to pace him a couple rounds.

“I’m doing everything in my power to make sure I get that goal,” said Fowler.

He has selected Jacksonville Presbyterian Church to oversee distribution of the funds he raises.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSpencer Fowler at South Medford High School Tuesday night.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSpencer Fowler during a workout Wednesday at US Cellular Fields.