by Joseph W. Gex II, Staff Writer
One of the most iconic scenes from the trailer of the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman” shows a man crossing a street in Los Angeles shouting to every passerby “What’s your dream?!”
Well, for a young girl named Cory Ann McGee from Pass Christian, her dream was always to become an Olympic athlete. That dream of McGee’s came true on Monday, June 21, at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, at the US Olympic Trials.
It has been her dream since she was eight years old chasing after her older sister, Shannon, on the beach in Pass Christian.
McGee acknowledged that she was the annoying little sister who didn’t want to be left behind by her older sister so she tried to keep up with her on the beach run from the old Pirate’s Cove restaurant west to War Memorial Park near downtown. It is a stretch that covers about three miles. That run set her on her path to become the Olympian that she is today.
McGee commented, “I can remember that run in my mind. It was quite a distance and I just kept thinking and reinforcing my mind to just make it to the next pier. And, then the next one, and, the next one…Later, I began to run up and down Dale Road and Second Street near where we lived. That stretch is the one place where I have logged more miles than anywhere else. It was where I found my dream. I have wished for it everytime I have blown out my birthday candles.”
And, this past May 29th, it was again her wish to run in the Olympics as she blew out her candles.
On June 21, Cory McGee placed second in the women’s 1500m run with a time of 4:00.67 behind champion Elle Purrier St. Pierre who won the race in an Olympic Trials record 3:58.03. Heather MacLean finished third to round out the team in the race. All three women posted personal bests in the race and all are first-time Olympians.
McGee recalled the finish, “Throughout the race, it was the plan to stick with Elle (Purrier St. Pierre). With about 200m left in the race, I knew I was running as fast as I ever have. Then, with about 100m left I began to feel a little tired but knowing I was about to become as Olympian gave me some clarity on crossing that line strong.”
This was McGee’s third attempt at the trials and it proved to be charmed. She also competed in the 2012 ad 2016 Olympic Trials.
McGee, 29, has been running more than half her life chasing this dream. She began running at an early age but she also caught the Olympic bug when she was about 12 years old.
Her father, Jim, is a retired FBI agent who had work duties at the 2004 Athens games where McGee got to see the world’s greatest up close. Not to mention that McGee was raised with the mindset to set goals and achieve them.
McGee’s mother, Shawna, was a state champion trap-shooter while her father had a job that required intensity and focus, as well. She is the second oldest of four high-achieving sisters who all competed in Division I athletics. Shannon, the oldest, ran track and field for two years at Mississippi State University while Devin played soccer at Southern Mississippi. Regan, the youngest, ran track and field and cross country at Southern Mississippi. Together, the four girls claimed over 50 state titles in high school.
McGee talked about her family, “My mother really has helped me with my mental preparation. She has been great at helping me understand those tense feeling on competition day. My dad was intense with training but that also came from his profession where even the smallest things demanded the highest priority. My sisters have all been great models to follow and extremely supportive. The goal has always been to run in the Olympics but if it didn’t happen, it would not have changed anything.”
Cory simply was the best on the track not only in the family but, also, in the state of Mississippi. She is the most decorated track and field and cross country athlete in Mississippi history winning 26 medals – 22 gold, 1 silver, and 3 bronze – in track and field and cross country at Pass Christian. She helped lead the Lady Pirates to the Class 3A state championship in track and field, holds state records in the 800m, 1600m, and 3200m runs., and won the 2010 Millrose Games high school mile.
Former Pass Christian head track coach and athletic director Tim Ladner stated, “I coached Cory from middle school through high school. She was always intensely driven and focused on running and improving. She is the hardest working and most talented athlete I have had the pleasure to coach. To see her running in the Olympics is not a surprise but we are still as happy and excited for her to reach that goal. We wish her the very best as she competes for Team USA and would love for her to be an Olympic champion when it is all said and done.”
McGee signed with the University of Florida where she went on to become a 10-time All-American for the Gators. She was the NCAA runner-up in the 1500m run in 2013 and 2014 while also being a six-time SEC champion. She currently holds the school record in the outdoor 1500m with a time of 4:06.67 and is a member of the indoor distance medley school record relay team. McGee graduated from Florida in 2014 with a degree in Political Science.
McGee signed with New Balance when she turned professional and has been with the company ever since. In fact, all three women representing USA in the 1500m are members of the New Balance team; however, they are not training partners.
A typical day for McGee means getting up at the same time each day to create a circadian rhythm. For her, she gets up by 7:30 a.m. every day and has a simple breakfast of toast, fruit, and coffee. Then, she heads to the track with a protein pack and a change of clothes. At the track, she run 8-13 miles broken up on a training circuit. After that workout, she heads to the gym where she goes through mobility work and intense powerlifting made up of Olympic lifts such as split squats, deadlift, etc. All of that is done between 8 a.m. and noon.
Then, she gets lunch followed by a shower and relaxing time usually made up of a nap, watching television, etc.
After the relaxation period, she gets another meal and will then go for a second run of about 3-4 miles depending on the time of year and mileage of the week. She ends her day with dinner and then off to bed.
McGee added, “It is a full-time job. There is lighter running on the days in between and other light stuff. But, every day has its own purpose. The goal is always to get better. It is very fluid and covers a wide spectrum. We have days that are intense and then there are recovery days. But, it is all done to prepare for this achievement. This is a good fit for me.”
McGee confessed that her mindset has never wavered or changed since she made that commitment to herself at age eight. She had always believed she could run in the Olympics but when she made the change to Team Boss she said she felt like she was now working hard enough to accomplish the goal.
When asked about her growing up in Pass Christian and now beginning to see herself on the Olympic stage was there any pressure on her to perform.
McGee responded, “I believe growing up in Pass Christian is why I can do this. I felt insulated from it all. Track and Field is not a high profile sport like football in Mississippi. I was isolated from it. When I began to excel in high school, there wasn’t any pressure just support. I did not get burnt out like other runners from bigger schools or programs. When I arrived at Florida, it was more of the same. It was my dream school but not the pressure of other schools with premier distance programs. It was a perfect recipe. The way it has played out has made it possible to achieve this.”
Representing Team USA and standing on the podium after the race are things that McGee has played through her head a million times.
She added, “It is better than I have ever imagined. Being able to represent Team USA, especially after all we have been through recently, is simply awesome. I can’t wait to represent Mississippi and show the world the pride I have in where I came from.”
Cory McGee ran her first race at age eight on the Pass Christian beach. She was a high school state champion in Mississippi, an All-American at Florida, but failed to make Team USA in 2012 and 2016.
It has been 17 years since she saw her first Olympics as a fan. On Monday, August 2, the first round of the women’s 1500m is scheduled to be run with the finals on Friday, August 6.
The city is sea level just like the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This time of year Tokyo is hot and humid just the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Cory McGee is proud of where she hails from which is sea level, hot, and humid.
Tokyo better get ready for what we already know is coming.