Commander Axel Spens is retired from the United States Navy after 22 years of service, with a great deal of that time spent in a submarine. At Lipscomb he was a member of the cross country and track teams and earned NAIA All-American designation in cross country. He graduated with a degree in American Studies. He is living with his family in Marietta, Georgia. He spent some time this week talking with Lipscombsports.com.
What years did you run cross country and track at Lipscomb? Who were your coaches?
“I was at Lipscomb from 1990-94. Dr. Kent Johnson was my coach all four years.”
Why did you decide to attend Lipscomb?
“I was trying to go to the Navy. At that time Lipscomb had a Navy R.O.T.C. program in a partnership with Vanderbilt
“My high school track coach in Morgantown, West Virginia was Jeannie Dragomire. She had a son, Dan, who was going to school at Lipscomb. I heard it was a good school and I was interested in it.
“I didn’t know much about the school. I went down there, almost literally, on blind faith.”
What is your fondest athletic memory at Lipscomb?
“I would say it was my freshman year. We had a pretty young team and we won the district cross country championship and got to go to the NAIA National Championships in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I think we only had two or three upperclassmen. Dan Dragomire was one, and another was Wes Sherman.
“It was just a blast to go to Wisconsin as a freshman. It was a big deal back then. These days the cross country team at Lipscomb is terrific and they may not get as excited as we did to go to Wisconsin.
“We did pretty well up there in the national race. There were hundreds of runners there. We really enjoyed it.”
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Lipscomb? How?
“Dan Dragomire. He was our team captain when I was a freshman. He had a lot of energy. We usually ran 65-to-70 miles a week. He had a very positive attitude about running and he made it fun for us. We had a lot of hard work to do but he made it enjoyable.
“Even though he wasn’t much older than the rest of us, Dan still had a genuine concern for us as individuals.
“I wasn’t a believer when I came down to Lipscomb, but Dan was real kind and friendly. That meant a lot to me athletically and it also seeped into other parts of my life at Lipscomb.
“The person who helped me the most spiritually at Lipscomb was Wes Williams. He was also on the cross country team.
“Wes would invite me to church every Sunday and I was getting a little tired of that. So I got a job on Sunday mornings so I had an excuse to not go to church with him.
“Of course, that is not the only time churches meet. He got me because he started asking me to go to church with him on Sunday nights. He kept after me. But he wasn’t too pushy. He was there for me as a friend. Looking back it was his persistence in looking after me. It was so important to me.
“By the time I was a sophomore I was becoming a believer. I got baptized in December of 1991 after my third semester at Lipscomb.”
What is your fondest non-athletic memory from your time at Lipscomb?
“There was a tradition if you got serious with a young lady they would take you out to a lake or pond and throw you in. We used to run by Radnor Lake all the time. I was 6-foot-3, 175 pounds at the time. I was probably a little too big to be a runner. All these little guys came to my dorm room and grabbed me and threw me in Radnor. That was a good time.
“We would go downtown in Nashville and attend different concerts. Nashville is a great city. That was a blast. I always found the people there to be so friendly and hospitable.
“I also have a lot of great memories of chapel. At that time we had chapel every day. I learned so much about the Word and Christian living and being an example. Every day of chapel was so rich for me. If every school had chapel they would be in so much better shape.
“I was on campus this past September. The chapel experiences are so rich and diverse now. I thought that was awesome. I wasn’t able to participate when I visited there but I saw how great it was. Students can own their faith sooner. There are so many types of chapel.”
What is the most valuable thing you gained or learned from your time at Lipscomb?
“Taking care of the people around you. I wasn’t the best fit for the school when I came there, but I found out the staff really took care of the students and had a heart for the students.
“The people at the school have been so good to me. I want to give back to them in some way. I took that with me through my service in the Navy.”
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
“The first one that comes to mind would be Richard Goode, a history professor. He was a great lecturer. He was able to provoke a lot of thinking and conversation.
“There was a Bible teacher, Mark Black. I took him for Corinthians the semester when I got baptized. I felt like that class was an influence on me. I can’t pinpoint how much influence he had on me at the time but he was my favorite Bible teacher.
“Dr. Lin Garner, in the English department, was great too. She is a real neat lady. I looked up to her a lot. I am so happy for her in the position she has in athletics (Associate Athletic Director for Academics, Senior Women’s Administrator). She does so much for the students there.
“Gary Hall was a math professor. He made math a lot of fun and sometimes math cannot be fun for people. He was a fiery guy too. He was great.”
Where do you live now?
Talk about your experiences in the Navy.
"I joined the Navy for the adventure of going out to sea and knowing that I would have the opportunity to visit many places. I have visited Crete, Italy, Gibraltar, Puerto Rico, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Guam and Australia.
“Susan and I have been married 21 years and we have lived in about a dozen places including Hawaii, Washington state and Washington, D.C.; as well as Kings Bay, Georgia, Norfolk, Virginia, Connecticut and Charleston, South Carolina.
“During my time in the Navy I have had the privilege of working with people from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, and many other nations.
“Most of my work has been aboard submarines, frequently very far from home, facing complex challenges. The education I gained at Lipscomb and the discipline that was instilled in me as a student-athlete prepared me very well for these tough problems.
“What I treasured most about my time at Lipscomb was the opportunity at chapel, in Bible courses and small study groups to learn about the Word. Since graduation I have continued to study the Word, letting the Lord work in my heart, and now know how well prepared we can become when we are patient, faithful and put forward our whole-hearted effort. I am very grateful to those at Lipscomb - friends, faculty, and staff -that poured into me, so that I would be well-equipped to honorably serve our country in the Navy.
“I came to Lipscomb seeking growth and adventure and looking back 25 years I have received so much more than what I could have ever dreamed when I started.”
Who is your employer? What is your occupation? What does your position entail?
“I have just accepted a job with a medical technology company, Instrumentation Laboratory.”
Tell us about your family.
“I have been married to Susan McCullough for 21 years. She was at Lipscomb for one semester. There were 2,500 students there at the time but she never me. I remember Wes Williams talking about her.
“My first assignment in the Navy was going to her home town, Orlando. Florida. I went to her church and met her there. There was a singles group class. I fell in love with her and two months later she fell in love with me.
“We have two children, Adam and Amanda.”
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.