Donald Scott Battles On Through Major Loss

As he was preparing to head to Doha last year, Donald Scott got terrible news. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

THE USATF TRIPLE JUMP champion indoors and out in the two most recent editions of each of those meets, Donald Scott has bounded over a steadily rising road for the past decade. Scott arrived at Eastern Michigan in the fall of ’10 from Florida’s Apopka High as a football player with credentials of a 49-5¼w (15.06) longest and a USATF Youth title in his spring sport. Luckily for track & field, it was the TJ that called his name for the future.

“As a freshman as I started to see myself catching up and moving up the ranks,” says Scott, now 28, “it was like, ‘OK, it’s not about how good you are. It’s about the total aspect of being a professional, how you carry yourself, how you handle different situations, how you compete that day and so forth.’

“So I’ve learned how to tune in on different aspects of what makes me an overall professional athlete. And then I take those things into my competitions. That’s when I learned how to focus on myself instead of focus on, you know, ‘Oh, Christian jumped this, or Will jumped this,’ you know? It’s all about finding what works for you. That’s tuning everything else out, so you can stay focused and learn how to be in the moment and tuned in with yourself instead of worrying about distractions and other people.”

A back story many don’t know is that of how sorely Scott was tested in the summer of ’19 after he PRed with 57-2¼ (17.43) for 3rd at the Rome DL and then reached the longest distance of his life, 58-2½w (17.74), to defend his national title.

Just over a month after Scott’s triumph in Des Moines, he and wife Nyisha welcomed their first child, daughter Anastasía. On Instagram, bursting with joy, he wrote, “Anastasía Larén Scott you are not only my biggest blessing but PERFECT blessing. I promise to be the best Father I can be and I promise you will never feel or go through what I did. All of my hard work is for you Stassi. You motivate me and now my purpose to succeed even further in life is because of you. You filled our hearts the moment we found out and on 8/28/19 you are finally arrived.”

Scott wasn’t finished writing: “I want to thank my Wife @_nyishascott for our bundle of joy. You sacrificed a lot and have been through a lot this whole pregnancy but we both know it was worth it and God made you for this.”

A month to the day after Anastasía’s birth, Scott, Q-round performance willing, had a date with the World Champs final in Doha. But life brings sorrow as well as exultation.

“I have a little story behind that one,” Scott begins before laying out events that defy the description. “Probably a week before my flight to go to Doha, I received a call from my sister saying that my mom—I knew that my mom was in a hospital [with Stage 4 cancer], but I didn’t know how bad it was.

“My sister called and said, ‘Hey, we need you to come down because she’s not expected to live much longer.’ So, yeah, I flew out that Tuesday to Florida to go see her and everything. I saw her. And then the night, before I was supposed to leave to go back to Michigan I had a weird feeling. I told myself I was wanting to get up and go see my mom before I catch my flight and head out, and everything would be fine.

“’Cause I told her that after the World Championships I’ll come back and see you again. And then I’ll bring my daughter so she could see her for the first time and whatnot. So I woke up ready to go and I get to the hospital room and I find my mom gone.

“It just hit me that everything happened so weird. You know, I just lost my mom a few hours before I was supposed to catch my flight out. The day before she passed, I told her that everything is going to be fine, it’s OK that she goes. I mean, she was sleeping at the time I was talking to her. I told her that everything will be fine. I got the family and everything is OK for her to go. And the next day she left. So I had to make a choice: whether to stay there and be with my family or head out to go do what she wanted me to do, you know?

“So I made that tough decision. I called my sisters, told them everything that happened. I probably had like 2 hours before my flight, I was still at the hospital. Everybody came in and I’m just like, ‘Look, this is a hard time. I know mom wants me to go do this, you know, so I have to have you guys handle this until I get back.’

“So, I left, I hopped on my flight and came back to Michigan. I had one day to pack my stuff, to leave for Doha the next day. So I had a lot going on when I got to Doha. I mean, I was pretty focused. I was at peace because I know my mom is in a better place and this would be her first time actually watching me compete.”

As anyone can imagine, “I was pretty overwhelmed with a lot of emotions going on at the time,” Scott admits, “and then the qualification round came.

“I fouled my first jump. It was a good one. I tried to come back and make one count. I did, but it wasn’t good enough. I believe I was sitting like 15th or something like that and they only take top 12 to the finals. So I had one more jump and, I mean, I don’t know what happened but I snuck into the finals,” with the =No. 3 mark of qualifying.

“I was overwhelmed,” Scott says. “I cried out there and everyone was like, ‘Wow, you OK?’

Two nights later he tried to regroup for the final. “You know,” he says, “same thing happened. I couldn’t make anything click until that final jump. On that final jump, that’s when I scooted myself up to that 6th place.”

Sure, grounds for celebration after his first trip to a major international champs final. Of course, Scott recognizes this. But also, “It was pretty rough,” he says. “I told myself, ‘I’m OK, I’m fine.’ But during the competition and even after, I told myself I wasn’t in my right mind.

“I was telling myself, ‘I’m doing this for my mom. I’m doing this for my mom.’ But at the same time, I wasn’t focused on exactly what I needed to do. I was just so worried about making her proud. I don’t want to call it a distraction at all, but I wasn’t in a right mind.

“But I made it happen.”

Cause, in other words, for tremendous pride, a night Scott will surely find seared in his heart and mind long after he finishes his career.

On the near horizon, though, an Olympic campaign lies ahead for Scott, whose ’20 USATF Indoor win came with the longest undercover bounce of his career, 56-6¾(A) (17.24), before the pandemic cut off competition opportunities for the year. He and his coach since Eastern Michigan college days, Sterling Roberts, have used most of this year to point toward the Olympic Trials, which projects as featuring a battle of epic magnitude to make the U.S. triple jump team.

“I’ve just learned that in order to be where you want to be, you have to learn from the best, you have to be around the best and you have to compete with the best. And that’s what I’m doing,” Scott concludes.