Lee McRae former "Rams" running back PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Locklear   
Monday, 23 February 2009

By The Pembroke Eagle

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Some of Lee McRae’s highlights during his career at the University of Pittsburgh
1986 - Sets the world and American record in the 55 meter dash with a time of 6.00 seconds
1986 - Earns All-American status in 100 meter dash by winning the NCAA championship in 10.11 NCAA Indoor record (7:20.43).
1987 - Sets NCAA & American record in the 60 meter dash in 6.50
1987 - Earns All-American status in 100 meter dash at the NCAA Championship in a time of 10.21
1987 - Earns All-American status by finishing 2nd in the 200 meter dash at the NCAA Championship in a time of 20.44
1987 - Won 55-meter dash at NCAA Indoors (6.13)
1990 - Inducted into Durham Striders Hall of Fame
1987 World Championships - Gold
1987 Rome 4x100m relay Pan American Games - Gold
1987 Indianapolis 100 meters - Gold
1987 Indianapolis 4x100m relay World Indoor Championships - Gold
1987 Indianapolis 60 meters Summer Universiade - Gold
1987 Zagreb 100 meters - Gold


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PEMBROKE -- Lee McRae has slowed down considerably these days.
Once ranked among the world’s fastest humans, McRae is retired from track and field, the sport that brought the Pembroke native fame and notoriety in the mid-1980s. Today, the 43-year-old lives in Lumberton and works as a material handler at Graphic Packaging. He lives a low-key lifestyle.
“Honestly, I can say I have never had a normal life,” he said. “I was always training.”
McRae made local, regional and national headlines 23 years ago when he set the world indoor record in the 55 meter dash with a time of 5.99 seconds.
He won the gold medal in the men’s 100 meters at the 1987 Pan American Games. He was also a four-time NCAA champion while at the University of Pittsburgh.
Along the way, he beat Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson, two of the fastest sprinters in the world.
Two decades later, McRae’s name is back in the limelight. McRae and 11 other Robeson County natives were selected to the charter class of the Robeson County Athletic Hall of Fame. McRae is making plans to be part of the induction ceremony on April 18.
“I am very elated,” he said. “I am very thankful and very blessed. I never thought I would see this day.”
Three other Pembroke natives will also be inducted in the inaugural class. They are major leaguers Dwight Lowry and Gene Locklear and former high school coach and college hoop star Ned Sampson.
McRae realized he had cat-like quickness at a very young age. He would kick up dust after his father caught him being mischievous.
“I would run from my dad,” he said. “He was a very good athlete himself. My mom was fast, too. I used to hear stories about how she would run my dad. I got all my ability from my parents. It’s in my genes. I took it from there and ran with it.”
McRae is one of Dorothy and Lonnie McRae’s six kids. The others are Donnell, Dean, Sandra, Kenny and Teresa. McRae grew up on Locklear Road, a mile north of Pembroke off Union Chapel Road.
McRae did not aspire to be a track star. Baseball was his first love. He and his brothers also loved playing football. McRae was a standout on the baseball diamond and the gridiron at Pembroke High School He stole 15 bases his sophomore year and rushed for more than 1,500 yards as a junior. Coach Aaron Cotton immediately took notice of McRae’s lightning quick speed and asked him to run track. McRae, who was sophomore, agreed. The high school didn’t have a track at that time so the team practiced with the track team at Pembroke State. Once he adjusted to settling in the starting blocks, the rest was history.
“Lee was born with natural speed,” said David Emanuel who coached track during McRae junior year. “He worked on coming out of the blocks. The rest came easy. He ran effortlessly … no strain at all. He had tree trunks for legs.”
Emanuel recalled a meet at East Bladen’s dirt track where McRae slipped and fell out of the blocks, brushed his pants off and won the race.
McRae perfected his technique during the summers as a member of the Durham Striders Track Club. His first national meet came at the TAC Junior Olympics. He set two age-group records and won four gold medals.
As a junior at Pembroke High, McRae won the state 100-meter dash. That year, Robeson County was home to the top sprinters in the state, including Lee Vernon McNeill from St. Pauls and Tim Worley from Lumberton. McNeill went on to run track at East Carolina. Worley played football for the University of Georgia and the NFL.
McRae was a member of the first graduating class at West Robeson High in 1984.
He continued to play football and after graduation he received letters some of the top football and track and field programs in the nation. N.C. State, East Carolina, Wake Forest, Nebraska, Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia and Pittsburgh all showed interest.
A diehard Steelers fan, McRae chose the University of Pittsburgh. He was awarded a scholarship to play football. The coaches wanted him to play at running back. He was going to be the next Tony Dorsett, one of the best running backs from Pittsburgh who went on to enjoy a stellar career with the Dallas Cowboys.
“But they said I had to gain 30 pounds,” said McRae, who was 5 foot 9 and 171 pounds at the time. “They planned to red shirt me. But I knew if I gained that much weight I wouldn’t be able to run as fast. So I went to the track coach and asked him if I could run track.”
The coach agreed and McRae proceeded to sprint his way his into the record books. He returned to the football field his senior year. He started the first five games at wide receiver and played on special teams.
On the track, he won three consecutive NCAA indoor national championships from 1986 to 1988 in the 55 meters and the 1986 NCAA Outdoor National Championship in the 100 meters while at the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1987, he won a world championship with the U.S. 4x100 relay team in Rome. He also was a two-time indoor national champion in the 60 meters in 1986 and 1987.
He was a two-time All-American, an accomplishment not matched by many runners from this area, according to Emanuel, his high school track coach.
“That’s a real high honor,” Emanuel said. “I am not sure how many All-Americans there are in Robeson County, but back then you had to finish Top 10 in the country with an electronic time. He was an All-American as a junior, but he never made it a big deal.”
At one time he was ranked No 1. in the world indoors in the 55-meter dash and No. 7 in the 100 meters.
Of all his records, McRae the spotlight shined the brightest on March 15, 1986. As a sophomore, the 21-year-old set the world record in the 55-meter-dash with a time of 5.99 seconds at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships in Oklahoma City. He broke the 6.02 mark set by Carl Lewis in 1983. McRae was first out of the blocks and beat Sam Graddy of Tennessee who ran a 6.02.
During the summers, McRae trained for the Olympics. A hamstring injury ruined his chances in 1988. He spent the last three years of his career touring and competing in Europe.
“I lost the passion when I turned 30,” he said. “I was mentally drained from competing from age of 14 playing baseball, football, basketball. I had been running track since I was 15 and running summer youth group Durham until September 1987. I took a year off and trained for the Olympics. It was something I wanted to achieve, but I fell short. But I don’t regret anything McRae lived in Pittsburgh for 12 years before moving to Raleigh in 1990. He opened a cleaning business and got married. After 12 years he and Felecia separated and he moved to Lumberton in 206.
“I think I accomplished every thing I could accomplish except winning a gold medal at the Olympics,” he said. “I had a real good career. I enjoyed performing. I have nothing to hang my head. I am enjoying life now.”
Staff writer Mark Locklear may be reached at www.nativevisions@bellsouth.net or (910) 522-2125

 
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