Sarah Scott: Overcoming Barriers

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to

When Oklahoma redshirt senior Sarah Scott successfully defended her Big 12 Conference crown in the 3,000-meter steeplechase two weeks ago, perhaps no one was more stunned than Scott herself.

She entered the competition having completed just one training session after having surgery to remove a cyst.

“It shocked me,” Scott admitted of becoming the two-time Big 12 steeple champ. “I was not expecting to do what I did. We were kind of using that race for a workout to try and see where we were at (in the recovery process).”

Kevin Ondrasek is the Sooners' assistant coach for distance events and has worked alongside Scott the last three seasons. Prior to his arrival, Scott had been pressed solely into long-distance races.

Previous coaches told Scott she wasn't fast enough to compete in the 800- or 1,500-meter runs, but had the stamina for the 10,000-meter run and was athletic enough for the steeplechase.

An open-minded Ondrasek allowed Scott to enjoy the brevity of shorter races, which simultaneously helped prepare her for the endurance required for the steeple.

“He saw some of my speed potential and wanted me to do some speed training, so he threw me in the 800 just for speed training,” Scott said of Ondrasek. “The 800 helps strengthen you for the finishing laps of the steeple, which is what he wanted. He wanted me to reach that other gear, to be able to feel that kind of pain and still be able to run fast off of it during the steeple.”

Scott proved her worth at shorter distances by placing second in the 800-meter run at last year's John Jacobs Invitational (2:14.43).

What (literally) separates Scott from other steeplechase runners is her ability to slam the door down the stretch.

Scott's remarkable finishing kick to win last year's Big 12 steeplechase title is the stuff of legends.

Scott again finished strong to repeat as Big 12 steeple champ two weeks ago at the John Jacobs Track Complex.

Scott rather bashfully explains her devastating late kick in the simplest of terms: “It's just a mechanism to beat the other person,” she said.

Asked if his training regimen of allowing Scott to compete in shorter races has helped her excel in closing out the 3,000-meter steeple, Ondrasek laughed at the thought.

“What can I say? She's got wheels. It's a gift,” Ondrasek said. “I don't know if I can contribute that to anything besides her just being a competitor. I'd like to think that I coach that, but I don't. You see it and you know, that's not coached. I've got nothing to do with that one. That's all her.”

At 10:20 p.m. (CT) Friday, Scott will compete in the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Sacramento, Calif., in hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Austin, Texas (June 5-8).

It's been a traumatic final semester for Scott, who also has competed in cross country and indoor track throughout her OU career.

“Prior to surgery, I was in a lot of pain, couldn't get through workouts, couldn't get through runs,” said Scott, who took 1½ weeks off after surgery.

Given her limited ability to train, Scott admits she's not sure what to expect Friday night and beyond. “We're just taking it day-by-day,” she said. “I feel confident going in. I'm excited, but I'm still not sure where my fitness level is.”

By advancing through prelims, Scott will get another crack at becoming a first-team All-American by placing in the top eight at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Scott finished ninth in the steeplechase at last year's NCAA, missing first-team status by one spot. This transpired despite obliterating the school record by more than 30 seconds with a time of 9:56.17.

Scott was not pleased. “I definitely was upset with myself, but it left me hungry for this year and I'm going to go get that spot,” Scott said of obtaining first-team All-American status.

Ondrasek recounted Scott's reaction to placing ninth last year: “She broke the school record in the prelim, then she came and broke it again in the final, and she came out of that race pissed,” Ondrasek said with a chuckle. “I said to her, “OK, come on now. You were sixth in the conference last year (in 2017) and you just got ninth at the NCAA. You can be happy.' She was like, ‘I wanted to score points for the team. The points are important. I don't care about a stupid medal.' You don't find them like that very often. In track, at least. It's just too individual.”

Scott said she doesn't concern herself with setting personal bests or where she stands in the OU record book. “I didn't know where I was at (on the clock),” Scott said of last year's record-setting performance. “I just was out there racing. If you focus too much on the times, you tend to miss the time that you're trying to hit. But when you focus on just racing well, you tend to hit the times. That's what I was aiming for, just to race well.”

"It's just a mechanism to beat the other person."
- Sarah Scott

Ondrasek admits Scott's ability to compartmentalize such things can be a point of frustration for him. “She's probably one of the only athletes I've ever coached who's truly able to do that, not just say it,” Ondrasek said. “She doesn't look at (projected) times before a race, ever, which drives me nuts because I try to give her strategy. She just wants to go beat people.”

What traits must a steeplechase runner possess?

“Toughness, athleticism, it's hard to describe,” Ondrasek said. “There's a fearlessness. When they're jumping that barrier, it's two or three feet off the ground over a water pit that's three or four feet deep. They end up getting some serious hangtime if they're doing it right. If they fall, it's a long fall to the bottom of the pool. Trying to introduce steeple to even a male athlete who sometimes has experience in other sports doesn't go over so well. To find a female who's fearless like that and goes diving into it every time, that's pretty awesome.”

These traits also help explain Scott's future plans when she has hurdled her last steeple.

Scott has a multi-pronged attack to her career. She plans to join the U.S. Coast Guard, but also has discussed recruiting for the Navy Seals and had conversations about becoming a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “It'll definitely be something to do with law enforcement and protecting this nation,” Scott said. “I'm going to see how far running can take me first and then definitely join after that.”

Has Scott always been so courageous? “Yes, for the most part,” she said. “A lot of it stems from my grandpa (Charles), who was in the Marines. He influenced me a lot.”

Scott initially majored in veterinary medicine but decided to change lanes. “I just wasn't enjoying the courses and it got really rough, so I decided to switch to criminology,” Scott said. “That was a better fit for me. I really started enjoying my classes and it's really opened a lot of doors for me.”

Scott, who hails from Wylie, Texas, played soccer and hockey when she was younger. She also jumped horses, which in a way parallels the steeplechase. “The whole idea of going over barriers is second nature to her,” Ondrasek said.

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