Abby Spector packed a lifetime of accomplishments into her first 22 years on and off the golf course before a congenital heart condition effectively ended her playing career and nearly claimed her life.
The Waterville native recovered after months of intensive therapy and competed in the Women’s Maine Amateur tournament she had already won seven times in a show of courage applauded around the state.
Spector, 33, has since opened another chapter in her golf career as teacher, PGA professional and ambassador to the game, especially for women. She’ll be inducted into the Maine State Hall of Fame on Sunday based on both her playing and teaching career.
“I’m just blown away honored,” Spector said. “There’s going to be a lot of people (there) from my past that mean a lot to me. It’s the biggest honor I’ve ever received.”
Spector is just one of two female PGA sanctioned professionals in the state, and two years ago, she become the first woman to become a head pro at Sugarloaf Golf Course. She has since taken a job as a teaching pro at Dunegrass in Old Orchard Beach, where she is beginning her second year.
“For me, it’s really trying to promote golf in Maine and teach,” Spector said. “That’s what I love, the teaching. It’s my passion.”
Spector is giving lessons, preparing to start a beginner’s clinic and will soon oversee a junior preseason golf academy. For the first time in 10 years, she didn’t head south to a golf course during the winter and worked as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic. Among her many stops at New England and Florida golf courses was a stint at Val Halla Golf and Recreation Center in Cumberland where she established a successful junior program for girls that yielded results at the high school level and continues to thrive.
“She’s been a very positive role model for girls,” said Maine State Golf Association executive director Nancy Storey who nominated Spector for the hall of fame. “What she’s overcome physically and returned to the sport and is now giving back is just tremendous.”
Spector played in her first Women’s Amateur at age 11, and really burst onto the state golf scene when she finished among the top five the following year at Springbrook. At 15, she won the first of seven state amateur titles and the second of her four Maine schoolgirl championships. She was also a member of the Waterville High School boys team for four years, earning MVP honors twice and leading the Purple Panthers to a state title.
Spector competed in the MSGA’s junior program, winning a state title at age 13 when there was just one division for boys and girls. A couple of years later she beat future schoolboy champ Sam Marzenell in the semifinals of the junior championship and took Greg Hanna, who played for a national champion in college, to 16 holes in the finals.
“Back then we only had one division,” Storey said. “She played from the same tees and beat everybody but Greg Hanna.” Today girls have their own divisions and play from the ladies tees.
“She’s the reason why we made the change,” Storey said.
Her rapid rise continued as she was awarded a full golf scholarship to the University of North Carolina where she finished first in two NCAA tournaments. While a student at UNC, Spector won the New England Amateur title at age 21. She also competed in the all-male Maine Open and made the cut.
Tragedy struck a few days after she underwent surgery to correct a congenital heart condition. Spector came within minutes of dying and lost consciousness for several minutes, which affected her brain and motor activities. She had to relearn to walk, tie her shoes, drive a car and finally swing a golf club, a process that took several months and from which she never fully recovered.
“When something that drastic happens it really does put life into perspective more than anything,” she said. “I really try to value each day. It’s easier for me to do that because I realize how quickly it can end.”
Spector said she’s anxious when thinking about the speech she’ll make at the Hall of Fame banquet,
“How can I possibly thank all the people who were responsible for helping me out,” she said.”There are so many people.”
She mentioned pros Bob Mathews, Al Biondi and Ken Raynor among others, along with the Browne family at Natanis Golf Course, where she played and worked for several years.
“The biggest one is my dad (Gary),” she said. “He was the one who made it all happen for me.”