Cross Country Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- She had competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials at the University of Oregon the day before and decided to stay over for the finals.
It was June of 2012 in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest and Florida’s All-America distance standout Cory McGee and her mother were enjoying dinner on an outdoor deck at a Eugene restaurant when the adjacent table raised glasses for a toast.
Next thing McGee knew, her foot was covered in blood.
“It was pretty gruesome,” she recalled. “A really deep gash in my ankle.”
OK, think about this for a second. You’re a world-class competitor in the 1,500 meters. You’re out for a nice meal and minding your own business when -- just like that -- that the facia and tendons in your ankle are severed because someone at another table said “Cheers” with a little too much gusto and half a glass just happens to roll under your table and slice open one of the very limbs that got you to the Olympic Trials in the first place.
Freak accident? Obviously.
Bad luck? Absolutely.
A setback? Temporarily.
The result from the laceration and surgery a week later prevented McGee from running for two months and forced her to sit out the Gators’ entire 2012 cross country season. McGee, though, rebounded as a junior during the 2013 spring track season to capture the Southeastern Conference title in the indoor mile, place second in the 1,500 at NCAA outdoors and later set a school record by running a 4:09.85 at a meet in Belgium to qualify for the 2013 World Championships this summer.
So forgive McGee, the junior from Pass Christian, Miss., for being a little late to the UF cross country party this season. Her first meet was just 12 days ago at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, where she clocked a 6K time of 20:49 that was only 14 seconds off her personal best.
Not bad, considering McGee’s last cross-country race was nearly two years ago.
“It’s been an adjustment for me," she said.
But McGee’s routine is getting back to normal and the timing is good for both she and the Gators. On Friday, McGee will race with her teammates for only the second time in 25 months when UF hosts the Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championships for the first time in 11 years.
Florida is the defending champion and winner of three of the previous four SEC meets. McGee was part of that title winner as a freshman in 2010, but missed the celebration in ’12 while recovering from her ankle surgery.
Her return is nice timing, considering she was racing in the World Championships in Moscow just three months ago and thus training on a different schedule than her teammates. By the time she rejoined the Gators, she was considerable miles behind.
Looks like she's caught up.
“Having her here for SEC Championships obviously makes a big difference,” UF coach Paul Spangler said. “Being able to turn in a low-place card with her up in the mix is really going to be big for us.”
A preview came at the Wisconsin meet two weeks ago. Not that Spangler was surprised.
“We knew she was capable of that, but we also feel she’s capable of doing even better,” he said. “She’s just a little behind everybody else.”
But gaining on them.
While the indoor and outdoor track seasons might be what McGee gears up for, her drive and passion to run will be in full force Friday. It is, after all, a race. She lives to race.
"I'm an all-in type person," said McGee, who had fall racing taken from her last year, but considers this an opportunity to make up for lost time. "I got a little crazy last year. I’m not nice when I can’t run.”
Evidently, she’s not so nice to opponents when she can.
“Talk to Cory and she’s one of the nicest girls in the world,” Spangler said. “But get her on the line, you can just see that competitiveness in her face. And when the gun goes off ... .”
If McGee runs her race Friday, Spangler will be smiling a bunch more.
“Realistically, I know what I do best [the 1,500] and sometimes you have to pick your battles, but I know that cross country is something that’s going to help me when it comes to the big races,” she said. “But once I’m on that golf course -- here in Gainesville, in front of our fans -- there’s no way I’m going to be thinking, ‘Remember, you've got to hold back for track season.’ I’m going to go out there and try to win.”