As a former high school and college track and field star, Menka (Sykes) Scott has kept up with her fitness for years.
Now 46, Scott wanted to get back into the sport professionally, even after taking a few years off competing.
She thought she could pick up where she left off by participating in the USA Masters Track and Field World Championships. A friend told her about USATF and in 2011, the World Championships were held in Sacramento, Calif.
“We packed up the family and made it a vacation,” Scott said. “We went to Sacramento and everybody there thought I was crazy because I was starting at the World Championships. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. I was just out there to have fun and see what it was all about.”
But the World Championship meet was truly that, pitting the best over age 35 track and field athletes from across the globe against each other with most of the participants being former Olympians for their respective countries.
“That’s when I got the grasp of the level of competition,” Scott said. “I didn’t realize it was going to be full of Olympians and I thought maybe this isn’t the meet I should have started in. My husband told me I would be fine, just to go out there and have fun.”
Scott did just that and ended the meet with two silver medals, in the 80-meter hurdles and her specialty, the long jump.
Starting out on top
Scott graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School, Decatur, Ga., in 1984, where upon graduating, she was the No. 1 long jumper in the country.
“I had the opportunity to go anywhere for college I wanted to go,” she said.
Scott visited a lot of schools, including Louisiana State University and UCLA.
“UCLA already had Jackie Joyner and Gail Devers,” Scott said. “I said, that’s alright, it’s already crowded around here.”
She ended up at the University of Tennessee, where she was named a five-time NCAA All-American and a SEC All-American. Scott also tried out for several Olympic teams, including 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
“Unfortunately, I never made the Olympic team,” Scott said. “That’s the one thing that kept getting away from me. Believe me, I tried.”
After college, where she met and married husband of 28 years, Terry, Scott competed on the professional level overseas.
“I went overseas and competed in Europe, but after awhile, it’s just like anything, I have to get a real job,” she said. “...It’s great when you are on tour, but when you run, you have to go from city to city. It gets a little tedious after awhile and so after a month you are ready to come home.”
Scott and her husband both decided to give up the circuit and settled down with their careers. Scott works in the healthcare industry and her husband is a head track and field coach, most recently at Raytown South High School.
Scott never gave up trying to make the Olympic team though, but after having her daughter, Mikah, in 2005, she slowed down training. And in 2008, stopped training altogether.
But Scott said that those four years off put her mind and body in a sort of fog.
“Corporate America, I believe, is basically set up to kill us all,” she said. “I think that is the purpose of corporate America. A lot of us are just falling right into the trap. You come home and your shoulders are up to your ears and you have that shortness of breath like you are just going to have a heart attack. You just need to go out for a run or for a walk.”
Getting it back
After that first USATF meet, Scott decided to take her training a bit more seriously.
“I just didn’t realize that the competition level was going to be that high,” she said. “I really trained the next season. I had trained before but not with the intensity level thinking I was going to be competing against Olympians. I thought I would be competing against other people like me, people that kept fit and ran, but it’s serious. It’s a lot more serious than I thought it would be.”
In 2012, Scott picked up gold medals in the same two events at the USATF Masters Track and Field Championships in Lisle, IL and at the World Masters Athletics Championship in Finland took home a silver in the 60-meter dash and 60-meter hurdles and a bronze in the long jump.
“I wasn’t expecting to have to run that fast,” Scott said. “I was thinking I hope my body will still move this fast. It’s funny what happens when your adrenaline gets going and you are scared to death and you recognize that you are standing between two Olympians.”
Most recently, in July at the USATF Masters Track and Field Championships in Olathe, Kan., Scott captured gold medals in the 60-meter dash, long jump and the shuttle hurdles relay, in which her team set a new American record.
“I was really shocked,” Scott said. “Last year I was on a team that had set the American record, but we broke that record by almost two seconds this year.”
Scott will be competing next in the World Masters Athletics Championships Oct. 16-27 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Scott’s mother, Delores Sykes, is her favorite traveling partner. She went with Scott to Finland last year and will be traveling to Brazil.
“She is retired now so she is ready to travel,” Scott said.
Going across the globe to compete is one of the reasons Scott enjoys being involved in the USATF, even if the travels are coming out of her own pocket.
“I wish I could get a sponsor,” Scott said laughing. “I’m going to have to work on that. These trips are getting really expensive.”
The more than a week-long competitions, do give Scott and her mother a chance to see the country.
“It’s keeping me busy,” Scott said. “Not only my mind and my body, but my spirit.”
Her body, although much older, is still able to do the things she could do back in high school and college.
“My body does what it used to do, just not quite as efficiently as it used to,” Scott said. “There’s a lot more aches and pains involved and a little more Aleve.”
Scott said that it took awhile, but eventually her body remembered all of the drills she used to do and that anyone could be in the same shape they were when they were younger if they are just willing to put in the time and effort.
“There are days when I do some hard workouts and I think, oh yeah, I’m 46, what am I doing?” Scott said. “There are several days when I wonder what I am doing out there and I can’t believe I am doing this to myself again. Then afterward, I think to myself, that wasn’t too bad. Maybe I will take some Aleve and go back out there.”
“I do believe that my abilities and talents are definitely a gift from God,” she added. “I do cherish and nurture those abilities. That’s another reason I run is to give the glory to Him. He is the one who blessed me with those gifts.”