Many athletes harvest an early passion for their sport, beginning at a young age and refining their practice until they reach a collegiate level. This was not the case for Trey McRae, who preferred jump balls to high jumps until March of his senior year in high school.
McRae, a redshirt senior on the track team, played basketball throughout his high school career. It wasn’t until the spring semester of his senior year that the track coach approached him about joining the team as a jumper.
“I had a weight lifting coach who was the track coach. He used to come to the basketball games and I used to do a lot of dunks. The coach thought it would be a good idea to put me at high jump just to score some points for them for conference,” McRae said.
The track coach asked McRae to come out to the track for about a month. McRae promised he would come out, but never capitalized on the deal, saying he “didn’t see myself doing it.”
With basketball season over, McRae had nothing else to keep himself occupied. Boredom persisted and triggered McRae to pay a visit to the track on a Wednesday where he was taught how to high jump. After one day of practice with his new sport, McRae entered his first track meet.
“I went to the meet expecting everybody to be better than me, but they were jumping like 5’2”, 5’4”, and 5’6”. I was jumping what they were jumping, then I just kept going. They were done at like 5’8” and then I ended up jumping 6’2” that day,” McRae said.
The sport that he had grown up with translated into his jumps. When going to do a jump, McRae channeled his inner Kobe and act “like I was dunking the ball.”
With his 6’2” performance, McRae won first place in the high jump less than 24 hours after learning the event.
“I didn’t really think anything of it, I just thought that everyone at the meet was kind of bad,” McRae said.
After his victory McRae didn’t have much downtime, competing in another track meet the following week. Hoping for a repeat of his performance his last time out, McRae entered the competition “with a mindset to win.”
With the right mentality, McRae competed to his best ability. He soared over his competitors, jumping a 6’8 while the other jumpers reached 5’8. Achieving those heights drew attention from all in attendance.
“By the time I was jumping 6’8” the whole track was looking at me. I thought it was weird because I didn’t think I was that good,” McRae said.
His performance in that meet landed McRae the top high jump ranking in the state of North Carolina. This came just one week after learning how to jump. Even though his name was sitting atop the state rankings, McRae still attributed his success to others’ shortcomings instead of his own talent.
“I was like ‘Whoa, this is weird.’ I still didn’t think I was good, I just felt like everyone in the state was doing badly,” McRae said.
Jumping to the top of the state rankings caused McRae and his coach to talk about his thoughts on competing in college. It just so happened that McRae had already applied to Charlotte to just be a student. His high school coach knew the track coach at Charlotte and made a phone call.
After the Charlotte coach spoke with McRae, they scheduled a visit and the rest is history.
Making the jump from high school to college was a challenge for McRae. He had to make a lot of adjustments from his old regimen to compete at the same caliber of those he was competing against.
“My first few months I was coming out here in basketball shoes and basketball gear,” McRae said. “I had to get used to actually practicing because I didn’t practice in high school. I had to learn that outside of jumping, you had to condition.”
Because of his late start, McRae felt almost like an outcast his first few months in Charlotte, especially when a torn meniscus took him out for the first three months of training.
“At first I felt like I didn’t fit in because everybody else had been doing track all their life. They were talking about it all the time, they knew all the big track guys and I didn’t know any of those things,” McRae said.
Pushing through his uncertainties and injury, McRae still had a phenomenal freshman year, earning second team all-conference in the Atlantic 10 Indoor championship. He also qualified for the World Junior Championships for outdoor high jump, taking McRae to Barcelona. This sport that McRae had been participating in for a little over a year was already opening doors for him, including sending him out of the country for the first time.
“For me to only have been running for 12 months, then next thing you know I’m in the top two in the country in 19 and under and I’m jumping in Spain, it was an unbelievable feeling. It was a humbling experience,” McRae said.
His success didn’t end after his freshman year. After his sophomore year he recorded the team’s best high jump at 6’11”.75 during the indoor season and took home an Atlantic 10 Championship for high jump in the outdoor season.
McRae jumped all the way to the NCAA Outdoor Championships for high jump in 2014. At the championship he finished 13th and grabbed a spot on the second team All-American.
During the 2015 indoor season, McRae became a two-time All-American in the long and high jump at the NCAA championships. He also came out on top at the Conference USA Championships in the high jump.
He isn’t slowing down during his final outdoor season. McRae is currently second in the nation in the high jump and has had seven first place finishes this season in either the long or high jump.
McRae’s accomplishments as a 49er live on long after he turns his tassel and finishes his collegiate career. His name sits beside first place in Charlotte’s All Time High Jump performance with a jump of 7’4”.5 and he is second in the long jump list.
With the titles like ‘All-American’ that coincide with McRae’s name, it would be easy for him to slow down, but those accomplishments propel him to work harder. McRae always sees room for improvement, though he’s still proud of what he has accomplished.
He plans on keeping his competitive mindset throughout the remainder of his collegiate career, which hopefully ends at the NCAA Championships and then take his talent to the global scale.
“I want to be the first national champion from Charlotte. To say I’m the best in the country and to win a championship would be the best feeling ever,” McRae said. “I want to continue to pursue track, on a national level and Olympic trial level. If not, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve enjoyed the journey. These will be memories that I’ll have forever.”
While his time jumping has been short, McRae has still learned valuable lessons from the sport.
“With my event in high jumping, there’s always a bar that is set and it keeps going up. The best lesson is never put limits on yourself. I’m always going to fail in some way – there’s a height there that I tried to get but I missed. I just learned to never limit yourself and to work hard,” McRae said.
When McRae decided to give something new a chance even though it was something he wasn’t familiar with, he discovered something that he excelled in. Giving everything a shot has carried with McRae throughout his entire career and will follow him wherever life takes him.
“If I never went out to the track that day I would never be where I am now,” McRae said. “Take every opportunity, no matter what it is. It might be foreign to me, but if it’s an opportunity to present yourself you should try it because you never know.