Wallace “Nate” Spearmon Sr. loves taking pictures.
Some of his favorites are the mini-poster-size shots he presents to the youth tennis players at the Sugaw Creek Junior Tennis Academy when they claim tournament championships.
This week, you can bet Spearmon will have his camera in hand, snapping photos at an athletic event on a very different scale.
Spearmon, a 49-year-old University City resident, is the father of Wallace Spearmon Jr., who will be competing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. A veteran of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, the younger Wallace will be running the 200 meters in his second consecutive Olympics.
Nate Spearmon’s flight was scheduled to arrive in London on Sunday. The preliminary rounds of the 200 meters competition are scheduled for Aug. 7, the semifinals for Aug. 8 and the finals for Aug. 9.
People of the Sugaw Creek Park tennis community first learned of Nate’s famous son only last year, even though he’s lived in Charlotte since 2009. Though he’s a proud father, Nate said, he likes to keep a low profile about Wallace’s accomplishments.
A nearly lifelong casual tennis player, Nate showed up at Sugaw Creek three years ago looking for a match. One of the first people he met was William Brown, head coach of the park’s Junior Tennis Academy. Brown spotted Nate sitting on bleachers outside the courts.
“I’m a wanna-be-good tennis player,” Nate told him. “I have the footwork, but the racquet is not quite as good as the feet.”
Before long, Nate was tutoring some of the adult players at the park. Brown eventually tabbed him as an assistant for the Junior Tennis Academy.
One day Nate revealed that his son was a world-class sprinter.
“We were talking about track-and-field stars like Usain Bolt,” William Brown, head coach of Sugaw Creek Park’s Junior Tennis Academy, said of the day Nate told him his son was an Olympic athlete. “He said, ‘My son ran against Bolt.’ We just went on from there.
“Nate’s low-key,” Brown said. “It’s not about ‘me.’ It’s about what his son does.”
Nate volunteers at Sugaw Creek five to seven days a week. His reward is seeing the youth players achieve, and in return, rewarding them with one of his photos.
Tennis is his passion now, but track and field is in the Spearmon blood.
Nate was a world-class sprinter in the 200 meters in the late 1980s. He made his first trip to London in 1987 for a tuneup to that year’s world championships.
Nate didn’t qualify, but Wallace Spearmon picked up where his father left off. Both Spearmons attended the University of Arkansas, where Wallace became a multiple NCAA sprint champion.
After two years in college, Wallace turned pro. He has stood on the medal podium in world-class events since 2005.
From November 2007 through the 2008 Olympics, Nate was his son’s coach. They were enjoying the Olympic experience together until Wallace’s controversial results in the 200-meter finals in Beijing.
Wallace was the third-fastest man on the track, which would have earned him a bronze medal, but he was disqualified for stepping out of his lane. After the Olympics, Nate said, he and Wallace mutually agreed that he would find a new coach.
This year, Nate has attended six of Wallace’s meets, including the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., in late June. Wallace won the 200, and Nate captured the race on video.
At the London Olympics, Nate plans to enjoy some sightseeing and is most interested in visiting Buckingham Palace. He’ll be at London’s Olympic Stadium as long Wallace is competing, but he would love to get his hands on a ticket for some of the tennis matches at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (Wimbledon).
Nate hopes Wallace will have a chance to redeem himself and capture the medal that eluded him in Beijing.
“My thing is, if he wins or doesn’t make it to the finals, I’m proud of him either way,” Nate said. “A gold medal would be the icing on the cake, (but) just seeing him enjoy what he does is rewarding enough.”
That would be a fine Kodak moment.