One of Will Stacey’s earliest memories is of the day he ditched his training wheels.
“I have this small but distinct memory of riding my bike around the yard and being so happy I didn’t have to deal with the training wheels anymore,” said Stacey, 15. “I wanted to be free of them.”
Ten years later, he says he still feels free when he's on the bike.
“At XTERRA Oak Mountain I didn’t have my best day in the water,” he said. “I was going side to side and I wasn’t sighting so well so I wasn’t going as straight as I could have. But I knew that wouldn’t be my strongest leg.”
Stacey was pretty happy with his bike leg though, and he impressed many of the more experienced riders as he flew by them. Overall at XTERRA Oak Mountain, Stacey had the 20th fastest bike split, including the elites.
“On the bike I tried to gain back as many positions as I could,” said Stacey. “One guy asked me if the number on my calf was my age. When I said, ‘Yes, sir,” he said, ‘It sure doesn’t seem like it.’”
Stacey credits his parents with encouraging him to not only try triathlon but stay with it.
“When I was five or six my parents entered me into some kids races. You know, you swim across a pool, bike five miles, and run half a mile. I loved those races. And I loved the aspect of being able to combine all three sports, especially the bike and the run.”
Even when he was in elementary school, Stacey would train.
“I’d ride my bike around the neighborhood and then once a week I ran a few blocks. As I got older, I started on an elementary school and then middle school cross-country team.”
Stacey wasn’t always excited to practice. Growing up in Tennessee not only were the summers hot, but many days of the spring and fall were as well.
“There were times my parents had to seriously encourage me to go to practice. I remember it was always hot and as a third or fourth grader, I couldn’t figure out why I had to run in circles in the hot, hot weather, but now I’m glad they encouraged me to stick with it. In middle school, we ran a lot in the park and in the trails in the woods and that’s when I fell in love with cross-country.”
Now a key member of his high school team, Stacey is running with some of the same guys he ran with in fourth grade.
His family also encouraged him to ride, and to this day, the entire family loads up their bikes and hit the dirt together.
“I remember struggling to hang onto my parents' wheels when we rode. Those hills used to hurt but now it’s totally different. I still love going on rides with my whole family, but if I want to push myself I have to ride alone.”
He also joined his local National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) team, which develops interscholastic mountain biking programs for student-athletes across the United States.
Stacey is proof that these programs turn talented kids into successful athletes. This year, Stacey won his age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain, XTERRA Cameron Park, and XTERRA Tsali. He also placed 14th out of 133 at the USAT Collegiate Club National Championship.
Stacey has also already earned his ticket to ride his bike in Maui at the XTERRA World Championship.
“My dad said that if I qualified he’d get me there.”
Last year, Stacey won his age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain and placed second at XTERRA Tsali. At the XTERRA World Championship, he placed 9th in his age group and was the youngest competitor in the race.
“That was a brutal, brutal course for sure,” he remembers. “It was so steep and hilly but it was great to see such a high level of competition in my age group.”
Stacey also loved getting to meet some of the elite athletes, like Mauricio Mendez, who has been a role model for him.
“I commented on Mauricio’s Instagram post when he won the XTERRA Pan Am Champs and told him he was an inspiration, and Mau wrote back to me.”
The two met at XTERRA Oak Mountain in 2016 after Stacey competed in the sprint event. He was 13.
“Mau signed his helmet and gave it to me to keep. That was really cool,” said Stacey.
In the helmet, Mau wrote, “Success: Living life in your own way.”
“I love it,” said Stacey. “I think that’s an awesome quote. That’s how I want to succeed too.”