FIRST PLACE. That’s the story 2 years in a row for Donald Scott in the USATF triple jump. Indoors, he has won 2 of the last 3. Yet for many in the sport, he’s still “Donald Who?”
“I don’t get talked about,” admits the unsponsored 27-year-old, “and, I mean, that’s just fine. I just use it as fuel. I’ll continue to be the underdog and just competing to the best of my ability.” Not a lot rattles Scott, who is in only his fourth year of concentrating exclusively on the triple. Maybe that’s because he had a rough start in life, he and his siblings bouncing between various family and foster situations. He didn’t meet his birth father until he was 12, and that was on a prison visit.
Perhaps that was why, when the family moved to Apopka, Florida, he took to his first track coach, Shawn Proffitt: “He persuaded me, pushed me to do triple jump because all I wanted to do was just run and sprint. He introduced me to the triple and showed me the movements. He’s also a major male role model in my life to this day. I call him my father.”
So Scott stuck with it, hitting a prep best of 48-9/49-5¼w (14.86/15.06w). He placed 3rd at State his senior year after winning the USATF Youth title as a junior. But as a 6-1/175 (1.86/79) wide receiver he couldn’t resist the siren call of football: “My eyes were set on playing. That’s my first love and I used track & field just to stay active. I just didn’t see it being a sport that I could do for the rest of my life.”
On the gridiron at Apopka High, he excelled enough to get a scholarship at Eastern Michigan and start as a frosh. It was fortuitous that his coaches in Ypsilanti allowed him to compete on the track team as well, where the accolades started coming. “I was very grateful for that because not many football players can go to college and do track and football,” he says.
As a frosh he won the USATF Junior title with a PR 51-9¾ (15.79) and placed 5th in the Pan-Am Juniors. The next year he won his first Mid-American title and made it to the NCAA meet, where he finished only 23rd.
In ’14, working with EMU assistant Sterling Roberts, his improvements started coming faster. He finished 6th at NCAAs and PRed at 52-6¾ (16.02). That’s when things started going south for Scott and his first love. For 3 straight years the football team went 2–10. “Our program wasn’t the best back then and after losing so much it tends to break the love for it,” he explains. “I gained more love for track because of the fact that it’s an individual sport. It’s all you and it’s all about self-motivation. I was starting to develop as an athlete and a technician. So I decided to just let football go and see how far track & field could take me.
“I had always gone from football straight to track and then back to football and back to track. I decided to just focus because I knew that I could be good if I just gave my all.” So as a senior he was the NCAA Indoor runner-up at 55-3 (16.84) and he placed 3rd outdoors. With an Olympic year coming up, he made the commitment to see where jumping could take him.
Long story short, he finished 7th at the Trials the next summer, but it wasn’t the crushing experience some would expect. “A few days before that I got engaged to my wife,” he says. “I was high off life at the time and the first day of competition, I killed it.” He was 2nd in the qualifying.
“To come back in and not do so good, yes, it was heartbreaking, but at the same time I had to realize that these guys are the guys that I used to watch film on when I was in college. They had more knowledge and experience than I did, so I couldn’t beat myself up about it. I had to tell myself that my time would come.”
Scott decided to stay in Ypsilanti so he could keep working with Roberts. “When it comes to a coach, you have to have a one-on-one, personal relationship with them. It can’t just be strictly about coming to practice and being told what to do and then leaving. Ever since we started working together, we feed off each other. He really knows what he’s doing. And I believe in his process and I love his family, his little son. It’s basically a father/son relationship we have, but he’s also my coach.”
Since those Trials, Scott’s prominence has steadily risen in an event dominated by legends. In ’17 he won the USATF Indoor and PRed at 56-7¼ (17.25) to place 3rd outdoors. He finished 13th in the qualifying at his first Worlds. Last year he won the USATF outdoor crown with a PR 57-0 (17.37) and ranked No. 6 globally. Now he has defended successfully in a World Champs year. “I just feel blessed that I was able to go out and perform the way I needed to at the right time in order to make the team. I’m just feeling relieved. It really shows me that I can compete with the top guys in the world.”
For Scott, leaving family behind for the trip to Doha might be extra challenging, as it will come right after he and his wife, Nyisha, will welcome the birth of their first child, a daughter. “It will be tough, but eventually she will understand,” he says.
Looking ahead, he adds, “I want to stay in it until the next Olympics, I believe. And if my body can go further, then maybe we’ll see. It all depends on if it’s paying the bills, you know?”