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Two-time Olympian Dominique (Dom) Scott’s steady climb to becoming one of the world’s best distance runners may have to do with her affinity for change. Moving outside her comfort zone has made her a better runner ever since she was a teen, she says.
The South African runner made her first challenging move at 14 years old when she chose to attend a Rhenish Girls’ High School, a boarding school, outside her hometown of Cape Town, that offered cross-country and track as school sports. Finding ways to challenge herself was in her blood. It was her mother, a semi-professional runner, coach, and schoolteacher, who taught her, “There are no shortcuts,” says Scott.
In 2012, Scott took an even bigger leap when she moved to the U.S. to attend the University of Arkansas. She went from being one of the best track runners in South Africa to the 8th best girl on her team. “I had to work hard to prove I was worthy of my scholarship,” says Scott.
She did that and more: During her university career, Scott was a 5-time NCAA champion, 10-time SEC champion, 12-time All American and helped the Lady Razorbacks win their first ever indoor (2015) and outdoor (2016) NCAA team titles. She also met the love of her life there: The day she won the 3,000 meters (the Razorbacks’ first national championship in a women’s sport), her teammate, Cameron Efurd, dropped to his knee to propose.
A few years after marrying, they moved to Boulder, Colorado in 2019, so she could train with world class Boss teammates (including Emma Coburn, Cory McGee, and Aisha Praught Leer) under coach Joe Bosshard.
“After a certain amount of time you get too comfortable to grow,” says the 29-year-old Adidas-sponsored athlete. “Maybe your long run has been a certain distance at a certain pace with the same group of people for the past couple of years. What can you do to challenge yourself to grow?” Scott asks.
Whether it was joining the team at the University of Arkansas or Team Boss, Scott has thrived on having to prove herself among faster teammates. But at the end of the day, she says, being a successful runner is not how she defines her self-worth.
“I have learned through my Christian faith that I am enough. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. The people in my life love me no matter how well I’m performing on the track,” she says. “I’m a sister, a daughter, and a wife before I’m a runner.”
Dropping the Comparisons
This realization really hit home for her, she says, after racing the 10,000 meters at the Rio Olympics. At her Olympic debut, she ran a personal best, but got lapped twice. “It was just another race. I didn’t walk off the track a better person,” she says.
It struck her again at the beginning of 2021. Within three months, Scott got COVID and developed a stress fracture. “I was reminded how I needed to be proud of my identity outside of running,” she says.
But for someone like Scott, who has made a living pursuing challenges, this is easier said than done: “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been chasing first places, gold medals, PRs, and records. It’s hard to accept ourselves without comparing ourselves to others.”
And for many female distance runners around the world that often means comparing bodies, admits Scott. “I can remember as a 12-year-old wanting to have a six-pack so badly because I thought that’s what defined a good athlete.”
Almost two decades later (now with that six pack), Scott is still learning not to compare herself to others. “Now, when I look at race photos of myself, I don’t see the muscle or the extra weight I’m carrying, because I know my body is allowing me to put in the performances I’m very proud of. Instead, I’m thankful for my body because it’s doing cool things.”
It’s no coincidence that Scott has recently been ripping off one top performance after another. “When I’m not looking for my worth in my performances and I’m not comparing my body to other athletes, that’s when I’m happiest. In turn, I perform so much better,” she says.
The first quarter of 2022 is the perfect example. In just three months, she’s accrued several PRs and podium finishes including third place in January at the Houston Half Marathon in 1:07:32 (only 17 seconds behind Sara Hall, who broke the American record) and second place in the 10,000 meters in March at The TEN track meet where she PR’d in 31:00:00 (what would be the 8th fastest time in the U.S. for women). She also delivered an impressive first-place finish at the Atlanta Women’s 5K.
Next up for Scott is the South African Track and Field Championships, where she hopes to be selected for the World Championship team.
Lessons Learned Running Internationally
Competing internationally has taught her to appreciate how universal running is as a sport. “All I need to bring is a pair of shoes and I can do my job anywhere in the world,” says Scott. She marvels at how runners speak the same language no matter their native tongue. Scott recalls one European track meet where she and an African runner worked together to hit the Tokyo Olympic qualifying time standard. “We had no idea who each other were, but every time someone slowed down, the other would take the lead,” she says. Both she and the African runner hugged at the end, knowing they’d met the standard and earned a spot on their respective countries’ Tokyo Olympic teams.
In the summer of 2019, Scott was sworn in as an American citizen. While she still represents South Africa as a runner, she says she is grateful to the U.S. for the opportunities it has afforded her (like her college education). Someday, she says, she’d like to have children and for them to see her race representing America, where she and Efurd plan to raise their family.
“America also has incredible history and depth in women’s distance running, so comparing myself to the American top performance lists is often a better description of where I am today,” Scott says. “I would be the fourth-fastest over the half marathon and eighth-fastest over 10,000 meters. I think people understand that more than being the second fastest South African.”
This switch, though, would mean some strategic planning, because it would require her to sit out a period of time on the racing circuit due to World Athletics rules.
While Scott says she will be focusing on the 10,000 meters on the track and complementing it with road races, she will soon be transitioning to longer distances. Look for Scott’s next leap outside her comfort zone to be her marathon debut in the fall of 2022 or 2023.