February ATHLETE OF THE MONTH - Nicholas Spessard
Growing up, Nicholas Spessard was a star on the lacrosse field.
“I am naturally tall and I was always faster than everyone else,” he says. “It just came easy for me.”
Nicholas first picked up a lacrosse stick in the fourth grade and immediate fell in love, leaving behind his first sport, soccer. It was the physical intensity, he says, that got him hooked on lacrosse, a love borne of his natural talent for the game in those days.
“It was because of the athleticism with lacrosse,” Nicholas says. “It was all the up and back, up and down, run around, beat people up, pretty much.”
Nicholas played lacrosse all through middle school and remained the most fleet-of-foot on his teams, playing midfield or defense.
But when it came time for his freshman year at Frederick High School, he couldn’t deny that something had changed: The other kids had caught up. Nicholas was no longer the fastest on the field, and worse, what speed he had was of little use if he couldn’t keep an attacking player from pushing past him.
“I had realized that my speed was no longer going to be my strength for me,” he says. “I needed to work on something because they were all getting around me, scoring on me. I need to fix this.”
Nicholas worked hard on the field that year, and his coach ran him ragged, he says, “Because he just wanted to see me succeed,” but there still came a moment of reckoning.
“At one point in time he looked at me and said, ‘I cannot see you doing this, you are the weak link on defense,’” Nicholas says of his coach. “It was a touch of reality when I finally had that realization. All this time it was like, ‘you’re the star!’ And then I’m not anymore.”
And so Nicholas did what many a tall, lanky young man has done: He hit the gym in order to get stronger, although not without some trepidation.
“Honestly I was a little nervous,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be judged.’ I knew I physically could not lift the same amount as other people. I was really worried it would be, ‘Ha-ha! He can’t lift that much!’”
Nicholas was pleasantly surprised to find his experience couldn’t have been farther from his fears when he walked through the doors at Players Fitness and Performance, in Frederick.
“When I got in there and I really started to go at it, I was like, ‘Wow, these people are actually really nice! They really want to see me succeed,’” he says.
“We weren’t nice to him,” jokes PFP Director of Athlete Performance Joe Pfister with a laugh. “We were encouraging, but we pushed him hard.”
And Nicholas, to his credit, according to Pfister, never shrank from the challenge, no matter how hard the going got.
“He was committed to doing whatever it took, forever long it was going to take, how much time he had to put in,” Pfister says. “He started from the bottom and now he is one of the stronger athletes in our gym.”
Nicholas remembers his first days at PFP well, if just because they highlight just how far he has come since then.
“Back when I was first going in, it was all I could do to lift the bar off the rack,” he says. “Now, I am pushing 130 pounds off my chest with bench press, upwards of 200, 230 pounds on deadlift.”
A special, six-week strength program geared for college athletes helped Nicholas take things to the next level with his strength. He still looks tall and lanky, but he says that gives him a bit of an advantage of the field, since his opponents don’t count on how strong he has become: When the other players push Nicholas now, he pushes back.
And more importantly, he knows he can push back.
“Getting somebody fit or stronger, that’s the easy aspect of it. There’s the science behind it. The hard thing is getting the athlete to believe in themselves,” Pfister says. “That’s the differences with Nick now, he’s strong and confident. Confidence beats out strength every single time.”
In recognition of Nicholas’s hard work, he has been named February’s Athlete of the Month.
Even when strength and confidence don’t win the game, Nicholas says he is now armed with the tools to keep a winning attitude. PFP doesn’t neglect the training of the mind and character while building muscle, offering athletes motivational messages before each workout, and Nicholas really took one to heart.
“It was, ‘find a way to mentally reset when you’re on the field,’” he says.
There are games you win and then the inevitable games where you wind up down 6 - 0, Nicholas says.
“That’s when would get in your own head and it would be a wreck. PFP helped me to figure out what I can do to have a mental reset button,” he says. “That’s stuck with me.”
And that ability to keep your head and keep getting after it even when things are not going well has value beyond the lacrosse field, Nicholas’s mother, Amy Spessard points out.
“That’s not just a field skill or a gym skill, that’s a life skill,” she says. “I love that PFP has encouraged him not just on the field, but to push himself in the classroom and even in the work world.”
Nicholas recently began working at Gladchuck Brothers Restaurant, in Frederick, and discovered a new passion: Cooking.
“I just love making food and making people happy,” he says. “I think it would be really cool to open up a restaurant.”
Next year, Nicholas will be attending Johnson and Wales University to pursue a degree in culinary arts — and he has a spot waiting for him on the lacrosse team.
“He is such a good student, he would have been able to go to that culinary school without a doubt,” Pfister says. “But the fact that he is able to go to culinary school and play lacrosse, because he has put in the work? Man, that’s what’s so cool about Nicks’ story.”
It’s also what motivates Nicholas right now. With the memory of his high school freshman year in lacrosse still close to mind, he’s working hard to ensure he is ready for his first year of college lacrosse, recognizing what will be another step up in competition. But moreover, he is applying the lessons he has learned at PFP to all his pursuits, from cooking to lacrosse, from short term to long term.
He’s asking, “What do I have to do to get better and be the best me I can be? “
That’s Nicholas Spessard’s why. What’s your why?