Gators runner overcomes obstacles

This story originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Gator Country Magazine. VIP subscribers to receive the magazine in the mail every month, and copies are available throughout Gainesville.

“Really interesting beginnings.”

This is how University of Florida sophomore cross country runner Cory McGee describes the start of her running career. “Interesting” is an understatement when taken into consideration that her first meet was near the pyramids of Egypt.

McGee was living in Greece when she started running competitively, because her father, an FBI agent, was working security for the 2004 Summer Olympics. She also credits her dad and her older sister for gaining her interest in running.

“My older sister had a big influence on me to kind of go out and run because I didn’t want to leave her side,” McGee said. “So whenever she would go out and run, I would ask to go.”

Before McGee took up running full-time, she was an avid soccer player. In fact, she said if she wasn’t a runner, she probably would have continued to pursue soccer.

“If I didn’t run, I probably would have found another sport,” she said. “I think I have that kind of personality where I need structure.”

McGee grew up in Pass Christian, Miss. After living in Greece for a year and a half, she and her family returned to Mississippi—around the time McGee realized running was what she wanted to do.

“I would get frustrated in sports where I would work really hard and not really see the benefits,” McGee said. “With the work you put into it [running], you definitely get things out of it to the same degree.”

Although the beginning of her running career was interesting, to say the least, training in Mississippi proved to be difficult.

“Going back to Mississippi, there is not a worst place, I think, in the world to run,” McGee said. “And to try and be a distance or a middle distance runner, it’s practically impossible. The weather, the places to run, the food, everything about it—it’s just tough to be a runner there.”

In the beginning of her 8th grade year, McGee experienced the biggest obstacle of her life: Hurricane Katrina. The small beach town of Pass Christian was almost totally destroyed by the hurricane. McGee said nine out of every 10 homes were lost in her town, including her grandmother’s.

“My grandmother, a 70-year-old woman, lost everything,” McGee said. “All that was left was her tile floor. That was definitely a huge challenge. Obviously, anyone who went through Hurricane Katrina would say that’s probably the biggest challenge they ever faced and will ever face. That was kind of motivational in a way.”

McGee and her family were fortunate; their house was not destroyed by the hurricane. Because of this, their home became a refuge.

“My house was built in like the 1840s,” McGee said. “It was one of the lucky few. All my neighbors’ homes flooded and my house almost became like this sanctuary. It was really bizarre, but like six families were living in my house that lost their homes. All my best friends and all their parents and everyone were all living there.”

After her older sister stepped on a nail and got blood poisoning, McGee’s parents moved them out of Pass Christian. McGee and her three sisters lived with relatives in Houston and Albuquerque before returning back to Mississippi.

Goal in mind, McGee continued to work hard because she knew she still wanted to run.

“Making it through those hardships that year really proved to me that this is what I wanted to do,” she said.

As her high school career came to a close, McGee’s sights were set on running at the collegiate level. Her father played football at UF briefly before a knee injury made him quit.

“I think that, just kind of growing up, I was always a Florida football fan, but not so much a Florida fan,” McGee said. “I never really thought about coming to school here, I just knew I liked the Gators.”

Her love of Florida football did not influence her recruiting process. She made several official visits to schools all over the country, but Florida stuck out to her the most.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I could find a good balance of academics and athletics,” McGee said. “And since running is something I want to do post-collegiate, I think that knowing I can graduate from here with such a great degree and such a name backing of me—the University of Florida—and still have hopes of running after college was something huge for me in making a college decision.”

Although Gator football wasn’t a factor when she decided to attend UF, McGee enjoys game days in the Swamp. Her father played a huge part in her passion for football.

“I feel bad for him because he has four daughters,” McGee said. “But we’ve all been really interested in football because of him.”

McGee does not just get her love of football from her father; she also keeps a book of his advice handy.

“It’s kind of funny,” McGee said. “Every time he says something that sticks in my mind I have to go write it down.”

That advice is what motivates McGee to get through the hardest days.

“I would often have days where I was just not feeling a work out,” she said. “I just didn’t want to do it. It’s so hot, and I’d always find an excuse. My dad would just tell me, the days that you don’t want to be here are the days that are tough and you finish the work out, those are the days you’re going to benefit from the most.”

When McGee is not running, she enjoys painting. She thought about majoring in art, but the studio hours would have been too time consuming and would not work with her training schedule. Instead, McGee is a political science major. Going back to Pass Christian in the future is something she is really interested in.

“It’s a very historical town, all pre-civil war, like beautiful homes on the water,” McGee said. “In a way, I’ve always wanted to have some kind of influence on where I live. I think that by studying that I could be a state representative or the mayor of my town and work my way up. Just to help where I’m from, something along those lines.”

For now, she’s focusing on this cross country season. Her personal goals for her sophomore year are to improve from last year. 

“I’m actually wearing a uniform of a school that I have pride in and being with so many girls that are counting on me and what not,” McGee said. “I would say that I’m definitely going for All-American this year. I think that I didn’t even have any expectations for myself really coming into cross country because I didn’t know what expect. If I got anything less than that, I think I would be really disappointed.”

McGee is off to a good start. She placed third overall in UF’s home meet, the Mountain Dew Invitational, behind senior Genevieve LaCaze and junior Florence N’Getich.

Having an FBI agent dad, running in the pyramids of Egypt and living through the aftermath of Katrina, Cory McGee has experienced incredible feats in her short 19 years. But if you ask her, she will just tell you it all helped her get where she is now and where she hopes to be.

“This is definitely where I saw myself in terms of being here in order to get where I want to be in the future.”