Senior Emmi Scales enters this weekend’s Indoor New Balance Nationals in Boston ranked No. 5 in the country in the 60-meter hurdles, and she is well aware of her competition among the other top-rated hurdlers.
“It’s the biggest meet in the high school indoor season,” Emmi says. “I’m really excited.”
She is coming off the D1 17 Grand Prix event last weekend, held at Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa, where she won the 60-meter hurdles, setting a new Illinois state indoor record in the event. Yet, she is keeping her goals for this next meet in check.
“It’s too much pressure to want to win,” Emmi says. “I just want to be happy and hope to get a personal best.”
Competing in hurdles now makes her happy, but it didn’t come easily. The graduate of St. Walter’s School in Roselle spent nine years in competitive cheerleading, including two years at Saint Viator, while also running track. She had to overcome a series of shin splints, back pain and knee problems.
Her introduction to track started when she would run sprints with her older brother, P.J.’s prep football team, when she was 8.
“I would beat all of them,” she says with a laugh. “They would be so mad.”
Her father, Patrick, decided to find a track program for his young sprinter. She began training with a club near their Bartlett home when she was 9. Later, when she was in middle school and the family move to Inverness, Emmi began training with the Flippen Flyers, based in Palatine.
“That was where I really found a love for the sport,” Emmi says. “They were like family to me. My coach, Joshua Bostick, was motivational and inspiring.”
However, when COVID hit, the club closed, leaving Emmi devastated. Ultimately, it was Coach Bostick who convinced her not to quit and give it another shot.
Since 2019, her freshman year, Emmi has trained at TNT Track Academy in Mount Prospect, which is closer to her home now in Des Plaines. She has worked with Coach Brandon Stryganek and Kirsten Nozime, who also coaches boys’ track and field at Saint Viator.
It was Coach Nozime who convinced her to try hurdles again, the summer after her sophomore year.
“I was so afraid of hurdles,” Emmi says. “I had been away from them for a while, and I wasn’t ready to throw my body back into them.”
Once she did, there was no going back. With her coaches’ help, she learned to overcome her fear of falling or clipping the hurdles, and she worked on streamlining her technique.
“It’s so technical, especially in between the hurdles,” Emmi says. “You don’t want any unnecessary movement in your arms, and you want to be the fastest up and over the hurdles.”
Simply put, she says: “You’re not jumping over the hurdles, you’re running over the hurdles.”
With her newfound confidence and training, Emmi had a breakout junior year. She was the Illinois indoor champion at Top Times in the 60-meters, and runner up in 60-hurdles. She was named All American at Adidas Track Nationals, placing 4th in the 60-hurdles, and 2nd place in the 60-meters. She also was named ESCC Conference co-athlete of the year, broke ESCC conference 100-hurdle record and tied in the 300-hurdle record. At the IHSA state track and field championships, she was the state champion in the 100-meter dash, 100-hurdles and 300-hurdles.
Finally, at the USA Track & Field championships, Emmi was the national champion in the 100-hurdles, and earned 3rd place in the 400 hurdles, and 6th place in the 4 x 400 relay.
And that was just during her junior year. This spring, she will compete for Saint Viator in the outdoor track and field season, before heading into the national arena during the summer season, and all before she starts her college career.
Back in November, Emmi signed a letter of intent to compete in Division 1 track and field at the University of Kentucky. She already met her roommate, who is another hurdler.
“I chose Kentucky for its Olympic hurdling program and for the outstanding athletes it produces,” Emmi said. “I can’t wait to play at the collegiate level. Go, Cats!”