ONLY A 13-6 VAULTER as an Ohio prep, one who neither held his school record nor qualified for the State Meet, Tim Mack understands better than most the plight of the developmental athlete.
“I’ve been at the bottom of the barrel,” says the ’04 Olympic gold medalist. “I wasn’t really highly recruited highly in high school, but then I made it to the top of the mountain as I was Olympic champion and Olympic recordholder and I’ve been everywhere in between.”
After years of coaching in Knoxville, where he went to college at Tennessee, the 47-year-old Mack has returned to the Buckeye State. Now the track & field training/development director for the SPIRE Institute & Academy, he is part of a reinvention of the facility—since December under the ownership of Axxella, a Baltimore investment firm—as a sports mecca near the Lake Erie shore.
“I have been to a lot of training facilities all over the world, but this is one of the premier places to train in the USA,” Mack says. “It truly is a site to be seen and utilized.”
The SPIRE campus in Geneva, some 50M from Cleveland, is well known in the Midwest. With 750,000 square feet (c70,000 square meters) of indoor facilities, its 300m track has been busy since it opened in ’10, hosting innumerable major meets including Big 10 and Big East Championships as well as NCAA Div. III and NAIA Nationals.
Outdoors, the 177-acre (c70 hectare) spread has a track stadium, along with facilities for other sports, and will soon feature a cross country layout. As a business venture, the complex had struggled until the sale last year, but is now aggressively rebranding and expanding its operation.
Enter Mack. The Olympian left behind his PV Academy in Knoxville—where he mentored ’16 Olympian Mark Hollis—to be closer to family in Ohio. He says helping with programming and development for track & field at SPIRE is the perfect fit. “We have some very forward-thinking individuals that are heading this process,” he says. The Academy side of things, providing on-site classes to high school athletes, will be expanded, with classrooms and housing on site.
Mack adds, “We have developmental programs for the post-collegiate athlete, where they can come to SPIRE and train and they can also work as an intern and get the coaching and the facility fees off.”
Summer camp season was set to start rolling but the pandemic has put that on pause. SPIRE is gradually reopening and adjusting its plans for this summer and fall. “Everything changes from day to day,” says Mack. “We’re trying to go ahead with a lot of these programs.”
Mack’s coaching role will be exactly what he was used to in Tennessee: “I coached high school athletes and developmental and elite athletes and I’ll be doing the same thing here. I feel like I can relate to an athlete of any ability or skill level. I do offer a different outlook on the sport in that it took me so long to develop in the sport so I have a little bit of a different take on it. I had to be a little more persistent, I had to use my imagination a little bit more, I had to be more efficient with my goal-setting and all these little details.”
Yet Mack’s concerns go beyond the pole vault now. “We’re hoping to build this into an all-events team. What I think is going to be distinctive at SPIRE is we’re trying to develop the total athlete. It’s a perfect environment.”