Age truly is just a number to Neringa Jakstiene. At 56, she has won eight National Senior Olympics gold medals and holds a plethora of world records. Her current indoor world record holdings are in: 60m hurdles with a time of 9.48 seconds, long jump with a distance of 5.22 meters, triple jump with a distance of 11.09 meters, and pentathlon with 4894 points. Her current outdoor world record holdings are in: long jump with a distance of 5.06 meters and pentathlon with 4735 points.
From Eastern Europe To Memphis
Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, Neringa competed in track events from age 13 to age 30. During this time, she was with the Soviet Union Junior Team. As a child, Neringa was no stranger to hardships. Because of her mother’s poor health conditions and her father’s workload, she grew up in a foster home with her sister until she finished high school. Sports, especially track, taught her discipline and responsibility and provided an outlet for coping with life’s difficulties.
Neringa moved to Memphis in 1994 with her husband, who later passed away at age 50. Following her husband’s death, she began volunteering as a track and field coach at Rhodes College, and then worked as a housekeeper.
That Competitive Edge
Throughout her hiatus of 20 years, she dreamt of competing in a world-level competition. After hearing about the Senior Olympics when she was 50, she decided to rejoin the competitive scene. She trained extremely hard for four years with a goal of getting back in shape to one day set a world record. To her great achievement, she not only set one record, she set multiple regional and world records. In 2019, she was in a race against herself. She set and re-broke her own records at every meet, totaling more than 14 times! That same year, she was chosen as the best overall Master Track and Field Athlete in the world, and she became a U.S. citizen. Safe to say, 2019 has a special place in her heart.
When asked what she enjoys most about competition, she says, “I cherish the feeling of accomplishment. I also enjoy meeting and making friends from all over the world.” Neringa says her two sons, Nedas (25) and Lukas (19), inspire her. To no surprise, they also share her love of exercise.
When training, Neringa heads to the stadium of her sons’ school, Memphis University School (MUS). There, she works on technicalities for special events such as the long jump, triple jump, high jump, and hurdles. From MUS, she then heads to the Memphis Jewish Community Center to lift weights and swim. Her training workouts total anywhere from two to three hours each day. To stay motivated throughout these tough workouts, Neringa reminds herself of her daily mantra, “Never stop trying; never stop believing.”
Outside of training, her maintenance workouts involve a mix of trail running, weight lifting, swimming, and even dancing. She began ballroom dancing in 2000 and found it to be a great source of self-expression and a wonderful way to meet new people. When not setting world records, Neringa is often outdoors or cooking—two of her favorite things. And throughout her many years of cooking, she has never once opened a cookbook. Instead, she has learned to make healthy, delicious meals from whatever is in her fridge.
As for the future, Neringa says she hopes to inspire others, “I like to help people whenever and wherever I can, whether that be with nutrition, exercise, technique, or something personal.” She does not necessarily have any specific competitive goals now, but rather she strives to remain active and looks forward to seeing where her training will take her next.
By Halle Griggs
Photo by JoLaura Bell