Someone saw it coming. And he had to let her know.
When Sheila Trice-Myers and the Christopher Newport team arrived at the hotel for the 1989 NCAA Division III Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships, an opposing coach had to find Trice-Myers. He approached the team, asked around and finally stood face-to-face with the soon-to-be legend.
“So you’re the one who can win this meet by yourself?”
Only Trice-Myers didn’t buy it. The thought of one person winning a championship meet on her own seemed crazy. But when her squad left Brunswick, Maine — “the coldest place I’ve ever been,” she said — with a fourth consecutive crown in hand, she had in fact won the meet by herself — and handily.
“The significance of what had happened didn’t dawn on me right away,” Trice-Myers said. “It wasn’t until we arrived back on campus that it really hit me.”
How exactly did she do it?
Well, Trice-Myers won all four of her events — the 55-meter dash (7.09 seconds), 55-meter high hurdles (8.00 seconds), long jump (5.82 meters) and triple jump (11.92 meters) — to rack up 40 points for the Captains, nine more than second-place Rochester (N.Y.).
A victory for Team Trice, as CNU sports information director Wayne Block called it.
But afterward, it wasn’t simply the fact that she had registered enough individual points to win that stood out. It was who she joined in becoming a quadruple-titlist in a single weekend.
Since the first Division I men’s outdoor track and field championships in 1921, there have been 449 national meets across all divisions, genders and venues (indoor/outdoor). In only three of them has a student-athlete won four individual events. The third came in Brunswick in 1989; the first two in 1935 in Berkeley, Calif., and ’36 in Chicago.
The hero at those mid-‘30s meets? Ohio State’s Jesse Owens, who took the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, 220-yard low hurdles and long jump titles in 1935 before winning all four again in ’36.
If “saw it coming” was ever a unanimous “yes” for those involved, it was for Owens at these NCAA championships. The first took place a few weeks after he set three world records and tied another in a 45-minute span at the Big Ten meet, an accomplishment experts in a 2005 Forbes article deemed the single greatest achievement in sports since 1850. The second preceded his four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
In the case of Trice-Myers, however, the unnamed coach may have been on his own.
“We knew she had the ability,” longtime CNU coach Vince Brown said. “But I can’t say we expected her to win four events at that meet.”
And he can’t be blamed for that. As far as most were concerned, Trice-Myers was not an atypical Christopher Newport recruit. That label was better reserved for runners like local product and multiple state champion Lisa Dillard, who won three individual crowns (still a DIII outdoor record) as Trice-Myers’ teammate at the 1987 nationals before transferring to Clemson, where she was an eight-time ACC champ and four-time Division I All-American.
Trice-Myers had a good prep career, but not spectacular. She never won a state title and wasn’t recruited by the top DI programs. But she was exactly the type athlete Brown was after — hard-working, with room to develop at CNU.
“We were a new school [founded 1961] and a new program [began in 1980-81]. We weren’t going to get the AAA state champions,” Brown said. “But we prided ourselves on being a very disciplined program, and Sheila fit our school well.”
Few, though, were prepared for just how developed and disciplined Trice-Myers would become during her time in Newport News, Va. Even Trice-Myers wasn’t ready at first. For Trice-Myers, a Louisa, Va., product to go from not training year-round in high school to winning a stunning 15 national titles in college, some major changes were necessary.
“My freshman year I just went out there and competed. I didn’t focus too much on it and didn’t take it too seriously. But as time went along, I learned how to get more competitive. I started setting goals for myself and became more dedicated to the sport,” said Trice-Myers, who now works in youth services for the City of Petersburg (Va.). “Building that confidence and competitive nature all started with attitude.”
This was particularly evident in Trice-Myers’ experience with hurdles, the one event she admittedly didn’t think she would win in 1989. And not that she didn’t have good reason — Trice-Myers didn’t even run hurdles in high school until her senior year, when her coach had her try them until a torn hamstring was fully healed. She did so, but not yet like a pro.
“I would run, but I didn’t really understand how to do hurdles,” Trice-Myers said. “I was more jumping than hurdling.”
So after her freshman year at Christopher Newport, she went to work.
Trice-Myers trained with a coach in the summer on her hurdling, began to grasp the concept and saw marked improvement. Then in subsequent summers, she stuck around campus to work out with athletic department trainer Chris Jones, a 2000 inductee into the CNU Athletic Hall of Fame who remains the school’s director of sports medicine. Trice-Myers’ efforts in those months paved the way for 32 All-America honors, not to mention an All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year award from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
“Sheila was a tremendously hard worker,” Brown said. “We would film her as a freshman and then again in her later years, and you could just see the difference.”
Trice-Myers may have taken some time to build herself into the four-gold athlete who made history at Brunswick, but it was two years earlier, at the 1987 outdoor nationals, when Brown first knew he had something special.
Running the 400-meter hurdles, Trice-Myers hit the first one and took a tumble. With her body dropped the hearts of the Captains’ coaches and athletes.
“At that point I realized that if she couldn’t run in the 4×100 relay, our national title hopes could be over,” Brown recalled. “We didn’t have anybody of her caliber to put in there.”
Nursing a bruised thigh, Trice-Myers suited up for the race and teamed with Dillard, Michelle Dickens and Sandy Shelton to win in championship-record time (46.44 seconds), one that stood for 11 years until another CNU relay group bettered the mark.
The triumph secured the first team title in any sport for Christopher Newport, as well as the first race title at the NCAAs for Trice-Myers.
“It was very painful,” she said with a laugh. “But we were excited to win.”
For Trice-Myers, the relay win started a dazzling career that would end with eight individual indoor titles, still an all-divisions indoor record for men and women, and seven outdoor crowns (including three on relays). Her 15 records are third-most among NCAA track and field athletes, behind fellow DIII females Amber James of Wheaton (Mass.), who won 17 from 2001-04, and Rhondale Jones of Lincoln (Pa.), who captured 16 from 1999-2001.
Trice-Myers also swept the 55-meter (indoor) and 100-meter (outdoor) dashes at nationals her last three years with the Captains, won a pair of 55-meter hurdles titles and set personal records in both the long and triple jumps at the 1989 indoors to secure her four-medal performance.
Of course she had some help from her supporting cast as well — a cast Brown called instrumental in a string of six consecutive national championships that began with the clinching relay victory, and a cast that often was more excited for Trice-Myers in winning than she was for herself. Brown’s squads won 12 national crowns during his 25 years with CNU (1980-2005), placing him seventh among coaches of all DIII sports in titles earned. In 2006, the USTFCCCA named Brown the outstanding DIII women’s outdoor track and field coach of the previous 25 years for his achievements.
Trice-Myers would not be shortchanged with the broad accolades either. She was honored with the prestigious Division III Female of the Decade, and in 2009 a call came from the USTFCCCA Hall of Fame. Both were well-deserved. After all, with her performances, she certainly didn’t shortchange anyone. Whether we saw it coming or not.
“She was a dedicated individual and simply a special individual performer,” Brown said. “She was going to finish what she started.”