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Adrian, Mike Spracklen: The Stuff of Legends

Monday, October 19, 2015

Adrian Spracklen has had a remarkable career as Mercyhurst’s rowing coach, including three D-II National Coach of the Year titles, two national titles with his women’s team, a pair of appearances by the men’s team at the Royal Henley Regatta, and lots more.

But Spracklen is taking this year off from the Hurst to pursue one dream he hasn’t yet achieved – coaching a national and perhaps even an Olympic team.

In mid-October, he’ll join the Russian national team to begin a full season of training. If the team qualifies, he’ll finish the year with an appearance at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I’ll get to test my coaching skills against the best crews in the world,” he says. “I’m very excited to coach at the highest level possible, against the best, on the biggest stage there is.”

He has another even more compelling reason for taking the job: he’ll be working with his dad, Mike Spracklen, a legendary rowing coach who was hired in 2013 to restore the Russian rowing program to its former glory.

Mike Spracklen, who turned 78 in September, will be attempting to reach his 10th Olympic Games. He’s coached teams from Great Britain, the United States and Canada to medal wins in every Olympics since 1976.

“He’s probably the most successful rowing coach ever,” his son says proudly, “but this will probably be his final year of coaching and I’ll get to spend that whole year with him.

“I can learn all the subtleties by being with him every day, more than I could ever get from a book or lecture. He’ll teach me every trick he knows, how to train, how to get the best out of athletes.”

The opportunity to coach with the Russian team came up this summer while Adrian and his family were visiting his hometown of Marlow, England. Mike, who coaches the Russian heavyweight men, learned that the women’s sculling coach had suddenly quit the team, just as it headed into training for the world championships. Mike suggested his son take the job.

Adrian spent three weeks with the team over the summer, two weeks of training in Turin, Italy, followed by the world championships in France. Despite the short prep time, his double scull finished a respectable 15th and his quad scull 9th. Neither finished high enough to secure an automatic bid to next year’s Olympics, but there are more spots up for grabs at a qualifying regatta next May and Adrian believes they still have a reasonable chance to qualify.

“I was only able to do so much during a couple quick weeks, but with a full winter’s training and proper technical coaching, I think it’s doable to get there,” he says.

Mike introduced Adrian to rowing when he was just 8, and Adrian rowed with the British Junior National Team as a teenager. At age 16, he became the youngest person to win a senior event at the Royal Henley Regatta – adding his name to a storied trophy that’s well over 100 years old.

Adrian came to Mercyhurst on a rowing scholarship and earned a degree in sports medicine in 1990. He later earned a master’s degree in the field from Western Michigan University. He says he never planned to coach. “Dad’s shoes are so big – how do you follow in those footsteps?” he asks.

But he soon found he had a passion for coaching. “I love being part of these young people’s lives, helping them grow, developing and nurturing them,” he said. “I found I can do it, despite my last name and all the expectations it brings up.”

In mid-October, Adrian will head to Valday, Russia, a lake between St. Petersburg and Moscow, where the Russian team trains (and Vladimir Putin has a private residence). A month or so later, when the weather turns cold, they’ll move to their winter training site in Greece until spring.

The team will compete in a World Cup race April 14 in Varese, Italy, and the European Championships in May in Brandenburg, Germany. Then, if all goes well, the team will head to the Rio Olympics in August.

Adrian knows he’ll face a variety of challenges, including a significant language barrier. In addition, he’ll be separated from his family for long stretches. He says his wife, Mia, knows how much this opportunity means to him and has been very supportive. She’ll take on the responsibility of caring for the couple’s four children: Henley, Teagen, Luca and Rowan.

The Russian training schedule calls for weeklong breaks every six weeks, so he’ll get back to America several times. In between, he’ll rely on technology. “What a blessing Facetime and Skype are to keep me connected. Without this technology, I wouldn’t be able to do this and still be any kind of a husband and father,” he notes.

While Spracklen is away, Jamie Francis will serve as interim head coach. An assistant will be hired to help him, with an eye toward developing a club rowing program at Mercyhurst the following year.

Mercyhurst President Michael T. Victor said the school was happy to support Adrian’s dream, even though it required some adjustments. “This is the kind of opportunity you just can’t pass up,” he said. “And, looking at it selfishly, what other Division II school can boast it has a coach from the national team/Olympic level?”