When Wyatt Spalding’s siblings were competing in athletics, he was always one of their biggest fans.
Last week, they got to cheer the Fremonter on as he was in the spotlight.
Spalding competed in tennis at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. He earned a gold medal with Haley Waggoner in doubles and captured a bronze in singles.
Spalding and Waggoner went undefeated in doubles and he finished 3-2 in singles.
“I thought I did pretty well since it was the first time I’ve ever been at nationals,” Spalding said.
Spalding said he has wanted to compete at the USA Games since he was in middle school.
“I’ve been wanting to go ever since I was in the eighth grade and I was really excited about it,” he said. “I’ve been working for this for about eight or 10 years. I always knew if I worked hard and did well in the state tournaments, I would make it there someday.”
Spalding, who was born cerebral palsy and other health issues, qualified for nationals based on a consistent high-level performance at the state level. Although his sister Jessica was a standout tennis player at Fremont High School and later at Augustana, Wyatt didn’t take up the sport until middle school.
“I used to play baseball, but I couldn’t see the ball anymore because of my eyesight,” he said. “My dad (Rick) told me to try tennis as something to play in the summertime. He taught me how to play and I’ve been playing since I was 13.”
Rick and Mary Jo Spalding were there to watch their son in Seattle as were other family members, including Jessica and Wyatt’s twin brother, Wes. The latter was a standout basketball player at FHS and went on to play at Hastings College.
“Special Olympics have been a pretty big deal to my family,” Spalding said. “Growing up, my brother and sisters got to compete. As I got older, I couldn’t play anymore because of safety reasons. Special Olympics have meant a lot to me because I’ve got to compete just like my siblings did.”
Spalding, who is a fan of Roger Federer and Sam Querrey, said his dad has been a great coach for him.
“It is something we do together,” he said. “We play several times a week and we’re always talking about tennis because we both love it. It is a great thing to do with my dad.”
ESPN televised some of the games and ran a profile on Wyatt. They also interviewed him in Seattle.
“They called my dad a few days before we were going to leave and said they wanted to interview me for a couple of minutes,” Spalding said. “I was really pumped to be on ESPN. I was kind of shocked they chose me, but I’ve always wanted to be on ESPN. It was kind of a dream come true for me. I imagined being on the (network) or working for them one day. That was probably one of my favorite things from the trip.”
Jen Lada conducted the interview with Spalding. He heard from numerous friends who saw the feature.
“That was kind of a cool feeling, especially hearing from my close friends,” he said.
Spalding also got to meet Shaquem Griffin, who was drafted in the fifth round by Seattle during April’s National Football League draft. Griffin was born with amniotic band syndrome and had his left hand amputated when he was 4. He was one of the defensive stars for UCF during Coach Scott Frost’s final season at the school.
“I got to shake his hand and took a picture with him,” Spalding said. “It was cool watching him in the bowl game.”
Spalding didn’t get to talk to Griffin about his former collegiate coach coming back to coach at the University of Nebraska.
“There was quite a line of people, but I did tell him I was from Nebraska,” he said.
Just like Griffin, Spalding has served as an inspiration to others.
“That was never my intention, but I just try to put in the hard work like anyone else would,” he said. “Sometimes it was harder because I have CP, but I believe if you really want to achieve a goal and do something, you just have to put in the hard work and make sacrifices. If you do that, anything is possible.”