Scout's Honors: Cai Builds On Impressive SPU Track Career
Scout Cai, pictured in front of a wall of her bib numbers, has won three All-American trophies in her Seattle Pacific career.
Scout Cai, pictured in front of a wall of her bib numbers, has won three All-American trophies in her Seattle Pacific career.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020
by Blake Timm, Assistant Commissioner for Communications

SEATTLE – Scout Cai’s track and field resume at Seattle Pacific is nothing less than impressive.

She is a three-time All-American in the indoor pentathlon, outdoor heptathlon and pole vault. She was named the 2019 USTFCCCA Indoor West Region Field Athlete of the Year. She is a three-time GNAC champion in the indoor pentathlon and the 2019 outdoor champ in the pole vault.

In the GNAC record books, Cai ranks No. 3 all-time in the indoor pentathlon and seventh in the pole vault. Outdoors, Cai ranks No. 2 in the pole vault and No. 8 in the heptathlon.

So when did she realize that she was an elite athlete at the Division II level?

“I don’t think that I have ever realized that,” the senior said. “I know that I will focus on the hurdles and think, ‘Wow, I suck at the hurdles.’ You have to realize your weaknesses and then focus on your strengths in the multi-events. I am still learning. I still want to get better every day.”

Cai’s mindset has helped her steadily improve each year that she has competed for Seattle Pacific, where she has contributed to the Falcons’ long tradition of outstanding women’s track and field athletes.

“She has continued to perform at a high level for as long as she has been here,” said Seattle Pacific head track and field coach Karl Lerum. “She continues to shock people with the things she can do.”

Track and field has been part of Scout Cai’s life for as long as she has been a competitive athlete. A sprinter since the beginning, Cai discovered the pole vault as a seventh-grader.

“I saw all of my friends pole vaulting so I just wanted to join them,” she said. “I stuck with it and in eighth grade, I came close to breaking the high school record.”

Cai went on to not only shatter the Colfax High School record but to win the Washington small-school state title three times, setting the Class 2B state record of 12 feet, 6 inches in the process. She also managed to claim back-to-back state high jump championships and finish runner-up in both the 100 and 200 meters as a senior.

But it wasn’t until she picked up the shot put as a junior, where she placed eighth at state, that the idea of being a college multi-event athlete became part of the conversation.

“When my coaches saw that, they said that I could be a multi-event athlete. I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know what a heptathlon was,” Cai said. “When my coaches told me what it was I thought it was interesting so I decided to try it.”

A three-sport athlete at Colfax, Cai competed in volleyball and basketball in addition to track and field, winning state titles in all three. Despite her wide-ranging success, Cai narrowed her focus to track and field when she committed to Seattle Pacific.

“I enjoyed playing all of those sports but chose track and field because my high school coach suggested the possibility of doing track and field in college,” Cai said. “I knew that doing multiple sports in college would be very time-consuming so I decided that only focusing on one sport would be my best option.”

Growing up in Colfax, a town of just under 3,000 people where everyone knows each other, Cai’s athletic ability was well known. The small town also proved beneficial to Lerum, who was connected to the program through a college teammate. From that initial connection, though, her ability did all of the talking needed to convince Lerum of her potential.

“She was all-state in three different sports. Anyone with that kind of athleticism is going to excel,” Lerum said. “When we saw that she was competitive in the shot put, along with the sprint times that she had, we could see that he had some unique ability.”

Once she entered Seattle Pacific, Cai seemed to continually surprise her coaches and teammates with her natural ability at whatever she did. Throwing the javelin for the first time in her first collegiate outdoor meet, the 2017 Puget Sound Ed Boitano Invitational, Cai threw 130 feet. The effort missed the provisional qualifier for the NCAA Championships by just two-and-a-half feet.

“She continues to shock people even now,” Lerum said. “To this day, she will do things in practice that make us all take notice and surprises us. She is such a talent.”

Cai’s potential in the multi-events showed from her debut at the 2017 UW Indoor Invitational, where she placed a respectable 16th out of 26 competitors that were primarily from the Division I ranks. Three weeks later, Cai finished just ahead of teammate Brooke Benner for the first of her three GNAC pentathlon titles. A top-three podium sweep in the event helped lead the Falcons to the team title.

The same held true outdoors where Cai debuted with a fifth-place heptathlon finish at the Sacramento State Hornet Invitational and went on to place second at the GNAC Championships.

Since that strong freshman year, the trajectory has only been upward for Cai. She placed fifth in the pentathlon at the 2018 NCAA Indoor Championships and fourth in 2019. Outdoors, Cai placed ninth at the 2018 NCAA Championships before arriving at what she considers the crowning moment of her career at the 2019 NCAA Championships.

“That was my proudest moment during college,” said Cai, pointing toward the wall to the bib number she wore during the meet. “I got All-American in both the heptathlon and the pole vault. I wasn’t expecting any of that so that was a really cool experience. I think that was the best experience of my track and field career.”

In that meet, Cai surged on the second day of the heptathlon competition, buoyed by a fourth-place finish in the javelin, to take seventh place for her first outdoor All-American trophy. She added her second the next day, clearing 12 feet, 8.75 inches to place eighth.

Despite injury issues in the shortened 2020 season, Cai managed to place second in the pentathlon at the GNAC Indoor Championships. Thanks to the pandemic, she didn’t get the chance to see what could have been outdoors.

Lerum admits that Cai’s ability in both the pole vault and the multis has presented some unique challenges. The rigors of sprinting, jumping, throwing and vaulting can put serious fatigue on the body, especially for an athlete with some chronic injury problems.

“We have gotten to know her limits a bit through those trials,” Lerum said. “The pole vault and the multis are not a great combo. It can take her off her feet for a while.”

Passionate about both events, Cai believes that being a multi-event athlete has helped her to be healthier than if she was focusing exclusively on the sprints and vault.

“The multis help my body to recover,” she said. “I can do jumping one day and then throw the next day to give my body a little more rest. It also helps mentally with being with my teammates and training with them. We are a pretty close group.”

In his book The Decathlon, Dr. Frank Zarnowski, the world’s foremost expert in the multi-events, calls the disciplines “the most social of track events and promotes a strong sense of camaraderie among contestants. Athletes will give and take advice, analyze each other’s technique, assist each other in locating and checking takeoff points and even use each other’s personal equipment.”

While Cai is quiet, tending to let her performances do the talking, she appreciates the special sisterhood among those GNAC athletes that choose to take part in the pentathlon and heptathlon.

“The heptathlon is long. It’s two days,” Cai said. “The sprinters only see each other for a few seconds, run their race and they are done. Being with the other heptathletes is a good experience. It is supportive at times. When you are with those other competitors and you are with your teammates, you are all in it together.”

That kinship is shared with her coach, who was a three-time NAIA decathlon All-American at Pacific Lutheran University.

“It is such a common experience with the people you are out there with for two days,” he said. “Over the years, Scout and Harlee (Ortega, Central Washington’s three-time pentathlon and heptathlon All-American) had a great back and forth competitive relationship. There was a great deal of respect between the two of them.”

Since the season came to an abrupt halt in March, Cai has been training without those teammates and competitors and without that specialization that helps keep her body in check. She spent most of the summer and fall at home in Colfax, running on the high school track and doing weight training when health guidelines allowed for that.

Since returning to Seattle last month, Cai has been able to get back into pole vault training at the NW Pole Vault Club. While there was rust to kick off after not having vaulted for almost eight months, she believes that she is not far off of where she needs to be for the start of the outdoor season.

“It felt like I hadn’t touched a pole in years even though I only took summer and fall off,” Cai said. “It felt really good to get back and I feel like I am in the same place that I was last year. It’s all mental focus.”

With her indoor eligibility exhausted, Cai is in full preparation mode for what she hopes will be the pinnacle season of her collegiate career. To do that, though, simply means continuing to focus on the basics.

“I will be focusing on physically and mentally preparing myself,” she said. “A lot of times, the mental side is something people don’t think about as an important aspect. If you are doing the multis, you have to be calm, cool and collected so that you can perform at your best.”

When the season finally gets underway, Lerum believes that she will be ready to do what she already does best.

“I’m excited about her vision,” Lerum said. “She wants to get more into a sprint focus and really get into top shape with her running form. We won’t tinker much with the other events.”