Jeff Mack warms up recently while training at Northside Christian High School in St. Petersburg. The 45-year-old, who works in the Environmental Services department for the city of Largo, won three medals this past weekend at the World Masters Regional Championship in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
LARGO – The race between Father Time and Jeff Mack has been no contest. Mack has left him in his dust, and the 45-year-old track star is not showing any signs of slowing.
Mack has the medals to prove it, including the three he won this past weekend at the World Masters Regional Championship in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
“I lost count somewhere around 70,” he said. “I tried putting them all in a shadow box and hang it up but it’s too big.”
Mack, who works full time for the city of Largo, won the 100 meters, placed second in the 200 meters and anchored the winning 4-x-100-meter relay. He also broke a 21-year-old record for the 100 meters, finishing with a time of 11.01. All of that comes on the heels of him placing first in the 100 meters in July during the National Masters Track & Field Outdoor Championship in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and anchoring the 4-x-100 relay, setting an American record in the 45-49 age group.
Besides the satisfaction of breaking records, Mack hopes his long and winding road to success can help inspire others to pursue their dreams, whether it be the high school students he mentors or adults who need a spark.
Off to a fast start
The Clearwater native’s love of track and field began as a young child.
In elementary school, Mack loved sports, playing football and basketball. But his mother discouraged it because he was smaller and she was afraid he might get hurt.
That’s when he discovered something special about himself.
“I found out racing neighborhood kids that I was fast,” he said. “And I kept getting faster and faster, and I figured out that’s my niche. That’s my thing.”
Mack’s niche turned into an asset in the early 1990s at Dunedin High School, where he was a state finalist in the 100 meters, long jump and 4-x-100 relay.
His success didn’t go unnoticed by colleges, leading to scholarship offers from the University of Florida, University of South Florida and others.
All during high school he worked various part-time jobs to help his mother pay the bills at home, so, while the offers were exciting, a concern slowed him in his tracks.
“I was under the impression of all of them that I would have to pay to go there,” he said. “So, it kind of took the wind out of my sail, and I thought I don’t have enough money to go there.”
All of those years of working and training meant Mack didn’t focus on his future. So, when DHS track coach Randy Lightfoot asked him how he did on the SAT, he knew college wasn’t going to be an option because he hadn’t even taken it.
“It took me about four years to go to UF and not picture myself being there, and that hurt stuck with me for a while,” he said.
A course correction
With track out of the picture, Mack started on a new career path. He went to ITT Technical Institute and earned a degree in Electronics Engineering.
But those three years without the sport he loved made him realize how much he missed it.
After joining some running clubs, he found a coach who mentioned that he could run at college events as an unattached athlete, which allows someone to compete even if they’re not affiliated with a college.
“From there on, I would say I’ve competed in NCAA track roughly over 16 years and I finish within the top five or top 10 in the finals, passing guys who already have scholarships,” he said. “That kind of brings joy to me, knowing that I’m still able to do it.”
Helping students succeed is something else that has brought Mack joy.
He previously coached at Pinellas Park High School, but for the past two years has been training and volunteering at Northside Christian High School with the help of what he says are a great base of coaches.
“(Students) see what I’m doing and say, ‘Wow, you’re fast. How do I get fast?’ So, it’s a blessing to give back to them,” he said.
Mack says his own history of missing out on a track scholarship makes training and mentoring student athletes that much more special.
“I want to give them that little extra thing that I may have not had when I was younger,” he said.
Working to stay on track
Mack also has two children of his own – a 10-year-old and 21-year-old – so finding time to hit the track is no easy task.
“Having a family at home and a full-time job, it does pull at you versus a professional guy who that’s all he does all day – run and train, run and train,” he said. “Myself, as soon as work is over, I have to go out and hit it. And even though no one is at the track, sometimes it’s just me and my shadow, it’s still good.”
For the past 16 years, Mack has been working in the city of Largo’s Environmental Services department, where he started as an instrumentation technician and now oversees all maintenance activities at the Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
“I tried to keep it secretive,” he said. “I’m kind of a private, quiet guy when it comes to that except for when I’m on the track, you can’t hold me down.”
But the more successful he became, the harder it was to keep secret. His races were put on YouTube and then he was invited to the 2012 Olympic trials in Oregon to compete in an exhibition of the top 40-year-olds in the U.S.
“I was treated just like any other top-notch performer,” he said. “I was signing autographs, which I didn’t expect to be doing. So (co-workers) caught wind of that.”
They also knew he was paying his own way to travel to meets across the country, so his colleagues raised money to help send him to the 2012 Masters Nationals in Illinois, where he won a championship in the 100 meters.
“It was just a group effort of the employees to sponsor him and to show him that we really appreciated what he was doing outside of work,” said Gary Jones-Glascock, the city’s wastewater manager.
Mack was so grateful that he donated a medal to them and gave them a plaque, Jones-Glascock said he’s grateful to have someone like Mack on his team.
“He’s good at motivating others to at least do some kind of exercise and get out there and do something regardless of what it is,” he said. “He’s been an inspiration to me and others for sure.”
Jones-Glascock playfully labeled him the Usain Bolt of the Environmental Services department, and some of his co-workers even found a picture of him with the Olympic rings in the background and put it on display in the break room.
“Everybody there knows now,” he said with a laugh.
The next leg
Mack says his love of competition and track fuels him, be he also wants it to fuel others, which is why he hopes to become a motivational speaker.
“I want to motivate people to be happier about themselves,” he said. “Get off social media every day and just sitting around thinking, ‘I used to do this, but …’ Well, what’s that but? Why can’t you accomplish it?”
He said whether it’s high school kids, college kids or adults who just want to lose weight, he thinks he can help inspire them with his story of perseverance and help them pursue their dreams.
“Go for anything you want,” he said. “I’m not asking you to quit your job tomorrow and go for it, but just encourage yourself, stay positive, give back to yourself and be yourself and the best you can be.”
Mack said one other thing motivates him to continue.
“I like breaking records,” he said with a coy smile.
Considering he’s just entering the 45-49 age group, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Getting on track
Mack says one of the best ways to get in shape is to join one of several track clubs in the area. Here are a few he has been a member of and recommends.