Arkansas running phenom Dominique Scott recalls that she was a first-grader when she first tried a cross country race.
Her mother, Renee, was a local high school coach and would have Dominique in tow on race days. Little Dominique would complain of being bored, so one day Renee suggested she join in a race.
"So I did that, and I started way in the back," Dominique said. "The first race I did, I had jellybeans in my pockets and I would stop and kind of have a little picnic halfway through and eat my jellybeans. But slowly but surely my competitive (side) started to come out and I started wanting to do better and better every week."
From that innocent start emerged one of the great performers in Southeastern Conference history.
Scott, a fifth-year senior from Cape Town, South Africa, is a seven-time All-American on the track, with two national titles and two national runner-up finishes. Add to that a pair of All-American finishes in cross country.
On Friday, at College Station, Texas, Scott will be gunning for a third consecutive SEC cross country title. Only two women have won three straight SEC titles - Arkansas' Amy Yoder (1997-99) and Auburn's Angela Homan (2003-05).
"Being one of (three) girls to win three, that would be absolutely incredible," Scott said. "And just to do it for the Razorbacks, I think that would be really cool. I've had an incredible past four years and I would just like to end up strongly in my fifth year. For myself, for my team, for Coach (Lance) Harter and just for the Razorback family."
Scott says she "definitely got some of my distance genes" from her mother, a former ultramarathon runner. Renee also was Dominique's coach at Rhenish Girls High School.
Senior season, Renee posted a YouTube video of Dominique winning the 3,000 meters and placing second in the 1,500 at the South African Junior National Championships. That was enough to draw interest from several coaches in the United States.
Dominique made a recruiting trip to the States and visited several schools, including Arkansas.
"I didn't come across with my parents," she said. "They said 'you're going to be by yourself in the States; you need to make this decision by yourself.' I was very much aware of 'where am I going to be comfortable and happy for four or five years away from my family?' And the U of A - the University of Arkansas - just felt like the place for me."
At first, results were up and down. She recalls that in her first SEC cross country meet she was far back and "I barely finished the race." She rebounded to place 11th in the NCAA South Central Regional and was 140th in the NCAA Championships. In track, she was an NCAA qualifier in the 5,000 meters and was SEC Outdoor Freshman Runner of the Year.
Under Harter's guidance, she made steady strides. She redshirted her sophomore cross country and outdoor track seasons.
"We actually changed her running mechanics," Harter said. "When Dom came - in the track and field world they use the term 'shuffler,' kind of a marathon-type runner. She had very little stride length. She had a passion. She had a desire to be really good, and she was more than open to the idea 'hey, we need to make some basic mechanical changes.' She said, 'OK, we've got to do it.' And that kind of led up to some of the reasons why we redshirted different seasons.
"And through those changes, I think, gave her a lot of confidence. And then she just got stronger. And as she got physically stronger she definitely got mentally stronger. She's always had the passion and the desire to want to be good, if not great. And I think we laid out a plan that is three-to-four years in its development, and she had the patience to say 'OK, I'm buying in and we'll work together to make this happen.'"
As a redshirt sophomore, Scott earned her first SEC cross country title, helping Arkansas to its 14th conference title. She went on to earn All-America honors by finishing 28th in the NCAA Championships.
More successes followed. NCAA track titles in the distance medley relay and 3,000 meters. SEC wins in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000. A second straight SEC individual and team title in cross country, with a sixth-place finish in the NCAA meet.
As much as anything this season, Scott takes pride in her role as Arkansas' team leader.
"That was one of the reasons why I wanted to come back for a fifth year," she said. "I just felt like I had such great leaders my first couple of years as a Razorback, and I really wanted to give back to the team."
So Scott leads not only on the course, but with words of encouragement.
"We lost four of our top five from last year ... so we really didn't have too much of a high expectation for this year," she said. "But the freshmen and the sophomores have just stepped up. They kind of saw where there was that gap, and that we needed them to step up, and they did just that. This past (race) at the Wisconsin Invite, where there were 20 of the top 25 ranked teams in the nation competing, the Razorbacks came in second."
Scott, who already has a degree in business marketing, will marry former Razorback runner Cameron Efurd in Cape Town on Dec. 22.
With Scott's parents in Fayetteville for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships last March, Efurd proposed moments after Scott came off the awards podium. Her win in the 3,000 meters had clinched the team title for Arkansas.
"That was amazing," she said. "Definitely, that night, I don't think will ever be topped."
Scott plans to settle in Fayetteville and pursue a professional running career.
The 2016 Rio Olympics are not out of the question.
"I think I may have the qualifying time for the 10K. But 10K or 5K would probably be the most realistic," Scott said. "I ran pretty fast in the 1,500 this past year. ... But Rio - Rio would be great. It may be a little bit too early for me. I think 2020 is probably more realistic."
The immediate blip on Scott's radar, though, is Friday's SEC meet.
She thinks her team's recent performance at Wisconsin will have Arkansas well positioned for a run at a third straight conference title.
As for herself, she is coming off a third-place finish at Wisconsin. Her 6K time of 19:32.5 was 22 seconds faster than she ran a year ago.
"Yes, all is well with me," she said. "No injuries or anything bad to complain about. I'm definitely very fit and excited for the championship part of the season."
With a chance to complete a very difficult three-peat at College Station.
"I think a lot of people underestimate how tough it is just to win one, because there is so much recruiting activity across the 14 schools that are consistently looking for another superstar to come in," Harter said. "So that when you come back as a former champion, there's always somebody lurking in the woods that can take that title away from you. And the caliber of NCAA champions now in the SEC - I mean, the 1,500-meter NCAA Outdoor champion (Rhianwedd Price) is at Mississippi State, and she's had a phenomenal career. I'm sure she's got to focus on Dominique, and if it comes to 50 meters to go, anything can happen."
Whatever the result, Harter knows he has a special runner.
"There are few times in your lifetime as a coach that you have an athlete like Dominique come along," he said. "And I've been blessed to have Deena Drossin Kastor, Amy Yoder-Begley and Christian Wurth-Thomas. I think, Dom, she's definitely in that company. And I've been truly blessed."