Over the course of human history, societies have looked to athletes as an inspiration and hold them up as representatives of the nation as a whole. This is the very concept embodied by the Olympics as nations from across the globe send the best representatives in each sport to compete for national pride on a global stage.
While the Olympics and other world championship events are often dominated by athletes from the largest, wealthiest countries, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t diamonds hiding in the rough. St. Lucian high jumper Levern Spencer is one such example of a premier athlete coming from one of the world’s smallest nations.
Profile of an Olympian
Levern Donaline Spencer was born in the St. Lucian capital city of Castries on 23 June 1984. In her youth, she attended the Entrepot Secondary School in St. Lucia before heading off to the United States for college. Spencer initially attended Albany State University which is one of America’s historically black colleges and one of three in the University System of Georgia.
Eventually Spencer would transfer to the University of Georgia where she would become an All-American in track and field as a high jumper. It was in college in the States that Spencer’s high jumping career would begin to reach new heights.
Spencer displayed a great deal of talent at a young age, putting in impressive performances as young as 15 and earning accolades for herself and St. Lucia at regional championships throughout North, Central, and South America.
Competing on the Junior circuit between 2000 and 2003, Spencer displayed her high jumping prowess in bringing home numerous medals. In her first Junior competition at the CARFITA Games (U17 Youth) in 2000, she left St. George’s with a bronze medal in the high jump with a mark of 1.73 metres.
In 2001 she put together one of the most impressive displays of her career capturing two gold medals and a bronze at both regional and international competitions, improving her jump height with each win. At the 2001 CARFITA Games (U20 Youth) she took home the gold medal with a mark of 1.79m. She followed up that performance with a gold medal finish (1.80m) at the Central America and Caribbean (CAC) Championships in Guatemala and a bronze finish (1.81m) at the World Youth Championships in Hungary.
Over the course of the next five years Spencer would continue to dominate the high jump competition on a regional level. Between 2003 and 2008 she would finish no worse than third at all regional competitions, bringing home two bronze medals, four silver medals, and five gold medals during that period.
Success on the international stage during this period was a little harder to come by, but when facing the best in the world Spencer still managed to represent her home nation of St. Lucia with pride and honor. At the 2003 Pan American Games Spencer finished 5th with a jump height of 1.83m and followed that up with a 5 th place finish at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
College and Olympic Career
As a student athlete at the University of Georgia, Spencer balanced her athletic endeavours with the pursuit of her Bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion and Behaviors. While attending UGA, Spencer set several records with one jump at the Georgia Invitational on 8 May 2010. Her jump mark of 1.98m was not only a personal best, but also set the record as the second-highest mark worldwide in 2010 and remains a record in St. Lucia and the greater Caribbean community.
However, 2008 was to prove the most successful single year of her career to date. Spencer began by setting a then-personal best and national record jump of 1.90m at the Clemson Meeting in South Carolina before going on to win successive events in Blacksburg, VA, Athens, GA (twice), Iowa, and finished with victories in Central America and the gold at 2008 CAC Championships.
Of course, the height of her success in 2008 came when Spencer earned the honor of representing St. Lucia at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Spencer would be one of three St. Lucians to qualify for the Olympic Games that summer and went on to finish 27th in the women’s field.
In the years since her Olympic debut, Spencer has shown no signs of slowing down in her high jump career. In 2009 she signed her first professional contract, becoming the first high jumper on the roster at the Stellar Group. In 2010 she signed her first ever endorsement-deal with LIME, a Caribbean telecommunications provider.
As for her performances in track and field, she continued to put in impressive displays at events throughout the region and around the globe. Spencer has dominated the CAC Championships in recent years, scoring gold medal finishes in 2009, 2011, and 2013. In addition to her gold medal at the 2010 CAC Games, Spencer also managed bronze medal finishes at the 2010 Continental Cup and Commonwealth Games.
In 2012, Spencer made her second appearance at an Olympic Games when she represented St. Lucia at the Summer Olympics in London, England. She improved upon her finish in Beijing four years earlier by notching a height of 1.90m (1.85m in 2008) and finishing in 19th place overall.
For all the success of her career, Spencer has been honored in her hometown and across St. Lucia for her devotion to athletics and success in representing her country. Spencer has won numerous Sportswoman of the Year awards in her hometown, a nod of appreciation from a nation that shows pride and respect for a homegrown athlete with amazing talent.