Sheila Ingram has not competed in a track meet since she brought home a silver medal from the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. But that doesn't mean the 20-year-old sprinter has retired from Olympic competition.
"Oh, I'm going back (to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow)," said Ingram, who was a member of the women's 1,600-meter relay team, which won the silver medal, and the runner who finished sixth in the individual 400-meter race. "I know everbody else is going faster, but I think I can do it. All I have to do is get working. I'm a very active person, so I never get really out of shape.So I think with my God-given talent, I can come back strong."
"Anyone can take a year off. I don't think anybody has to grind and grind and grind to stay on top. Everybody needs to take some time off," said Adrian Dixon, Ingram's coach in junior high school, at Coolidge High School, and now at the University of the District of Columbia.
"I believe she'll make it - she has the talent. THere's no doubt in my mind that's half the battle if she's confident she can do it."
Ingram quit running right after her return from the Olympics in 1976. "It's not I was tired from running," said Ingram, a graduate of Coolidge High School in Northwest Washington. "I just wanted to see what the other side of life was about. It was just a time-out, I guess. I don't want to push myself. I don't want my body to wear out."
During her year away from track, Ingram spent time swimming, a sport she entered competitively this year on the University of the District of Columbia's women's indoor team.
Ingram, who now lives at 238 I St. SW, started running at age 13. Two years later she was invited to the 1972 Olympic trials in Fredericksburg, Va. She didn't qualify then, but the stage was set for an impresive high school career. In her sophomore year, she took interhigh (D.C. public schools) titles in the 200- and 440-yard dashes in addition to running on three winning relay teams. She took it easy during to capture the indoor 220-yard crown. During her final year she placed first indoors in the 60-, 220- and 440-yard dashes and also placed second in cross country. Coolidge claimed indoor and outdoor city titles in each of the three years.
Ingram's city records of 25.8 seconds of 53.9 for 440 yards in the 1973 Junior Olympics, 54.6 in the 1973 Youth Games and 53.0 for 400 meters in the 1975 United States-U.S.S.R. competition. Ingram ran her fastest 400-meter time ever, 50.9, in placing sixth to a world record performance of 49.29 by Poland's Irena Szewinska in the 1976 Olympics.
After returning from the Olympics in Montreal as the only D.C. public school athelete ever to compete, Ingram said she had college scholarship offers from Florida Sated, Tennesse, Morgan State, Maryland and Southern Louisiana. But she chose to stay home and attend Federal City College, which was incorporated into UDC this fall.
"I didn't take any of those offers because I was planning to go away after a year," said Ingram, who has maintained her exact Olympic frame of 5-foot-4 and 110 pounds. "But when they made (Federal City) into a university, I felt I owed it to my community to stay home."
Ingram's sense of debt is real. Before the 1976 Olympics, two area radio stations held a fundraiser so that Ingram and her mother, Virgie, could make the trip to the Olympic trials in Los Angeles. The meet had provided money only for the athlete's airfare.
"I think I owe them something. I can stay home and make them proud," said Ingram, a member of the Pioneer Track Club.
Ingram admitted another reason for staying home: "I never did like the country life. I'm a city person. No reason why. I guess just because this was where I was born and raised."