During any other season, Janai Scott would be coming off her long-awaited Liberty track & field debut and her first meet in 773 days. The redshirt junior sprinter from Bonaire, Ga., had been scheduled to race the 400 meters on Saturday (March 21) at the CSU Spring Break Invitational in Charleston, S.C. However, the entire 2020 outdoor season was cancelled on March 13 due to health concerns related to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, putting Scott's comeback on pause.
"It was a lot of mixed emotions with everyone, both me and my teammates," Scott recalled of her reaction to the March 13 announcement. "I was obviously sad because I was so excited. I was supposed to be competing last Saturday in Charleston. I was really excited just to open up and put on the LU uniform, but it didn't happen."
Wearing a Liberty uniform was something Scott never expected to do when she first enrolled in college at Campbell University in 2016. She enjoyed a stellar freshman season on the track for the Camels, capturing a trio of Big South titles (indoor women's 200, outdoor women's 100 and outdoor women's 200). The 2017 Big South Outdoor Women's Freshman of the Year clocked a 100 time of 11.69, faster than any Liberty freshman has ever run.
During that season, Scott met and befriended another of the Big South's talented freshmen, Liberty's Jahquez Durham. He was another of the 10 freshmen to win events at the 2017 Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships, taking top honors in the men's 400.
After enduring an injury-plagued and frustrating sophomore year, Scott reached out to Durham for advice. "He said, ‘You should come to Liberty,'" Scott remembered with a laugh. "I was like, ‘Ok, that's a joke. No, not Liberty. You always win.' I hated this school."
"But I came and visited campus and fell in love," continued Scott, who enrolled at Liberty for the fall 2018 semester. "I've never regretted it. It's been great."
Unfortunately, Scott's injury problems persisted at Liberty. During her first semester on campus, x-rays revealed five stress fractures in her right leg and four more in her left. Suddenly, Scott's junior season was over before it began.
"That was a really bad time of my life," Scott recalled. "Crutches, boot, air cast, I pretty much had everything. At least I could run my senior year. That was the energy that kept me going."
Early on in her senior year, it was determined that Scott needed surgery on both of her legs, beginning with one she had on her right leg in October.
"The plan was to come back from that, sit out the indoor season, compete during the outdoor season and then have my second surgery after outdoor was over," explained Scott. "However, the coronavirus decided to creep in, changing my plans a little bit. Now, I can go ahead and get my other surgery done and actually be healthy next year. It was still painful to train this season. I'm happy that I don't have to go through that pain anymore."
In addition to that silver lining, Scott also appreciates the support she's received from her coaches and teammates during the last two years at Liberty.
"This track team is a huge family," Scott stated. "Even though I've been going through all this stuff, everyone's arms are still open to me. That's so comforting. Everyone is so supportive and so loving through everything. I think this was the best place for me to be, especially during this time of surgery and injuries."
The experiences Scott has gone through at Liberty also influenced her to change her major from exercise science to psychology.
"I want to help people mentally," she explained. "I feel like a lot of my strength the last two years has come from my counselor, Coach Pete [McFadden] and my nutritionist. They talked to me and helped me in ways that, if they didn't, I don't know if I would still be in college. I probably would have just quit altogether. That made me want to change my major, and now I graduate in May."
Despite the temporary setback, Scott maintains an impressive maturity and optimism during these uncertain, unprecedented times.
"It's not just about this outdoor season or my second surgery or I can't do this or that," Scott said. "It's about saving people's lives."
"No one enters college thinking they'll have to sit out a season. Everyone is hurting right now. I'm thankful it's only two months and not forever. I'm thankful we get another chance to compete next year. As for now, this is a perfect time to get healthy, finish school and get my grades up."