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One more hurdle for Gabriele Cunningham on the journey to Tokyo
Mallard Creek grad focused on delayed Olympics
 
Published Wednesday, May 20, 2020 8:20 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

COURTESY GABRIELE CUNNINGHAM
Mallard Creek High graduate Gabriele Cunningham continues to train for the Tokyo Olympics, which was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cunningham, who won the 60-meter hurdles at the USA Track and Field Championships in February, competed collegiately at North Carolina State.

Gabriele Cunningham’s eyes are set on the Olympics.


It’ll just take another year to realize the dream.


When the Mallard Creek high graduate won the 60-meter hurdles at February’s USA Track and Field Indoor Championships, it was  a step toward the Olympics, but the 2020 Games in Tokyo was put on pause less than a month later. The North Carolina State alumnus, like athletes across America, awaits the U.S. Olympic trials, which were moved to June 18-27, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon.


“Now that the qualifying date is pushed out, I have more time to go back and work on the small details and be able to get stronger and work on my form,” said Cunningham, who is a year removed from graduation at N.C. State. “We’re staying with the same focus we had going into this year.”


Cunningham’s typical training schedule would consist of lifting Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, with running on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays. She’d take Wednesdays and weekends off from running practice.


“Tuesdays and Thursdays are my hurdle days, and Monday and Friday are my long workout,” Cunningham said. “When we’re in the fall season, kind of like the preseason, I would do hills sometimes on Fridays. That’s what a typical day would look like for me before COVID-19.”


Cunningham trained at N.C. State prior to the pandemic, but with the campus closed, training looks a little different. During the initial uncertainty accompanying the virus, she tried to train at home, as no one knew how safety standards would progress. She had to get creative with weight training by substituting suitcases for the usual equipment. Now she uses her strength coach’s home gym.


“I can’t use N.C. State’s weight room, but my weight training coach has a home gym, and I’m able to lift weights with him,” Cunningham said. “I’ve been trying to continue with my practice schedule as much as I can.”


Cunningham lived in Maryland before moving to North Carolina, but the path toward becoming a professional athlete began in Charlotte. She picked up track when she transferred to Mallard Creek as a freshman. A conversation with Mavericks coach Londel McClary made her consider goals and possibilities with the sport.


“He told me he was willing to get me there, and from there on out, I ran the 300-meter hurdles, and that was the race I started seeing success in, and then I transferred to the 100-meter hurdles and sprints,” Cunningham said. “I started running the 100-meter and 200-meter relays. By the time I got to my senior year, I had competed at the Junior Olympics.”

Cunningham was recruited by schools such as Appalachian State, Charlotte, Tennessee and Michigan State. Yet she chose NCSU, which competes in the ACC.


“N.C. State really stuck out to me because I had a teammate who had signed there the year before, and my host [for the campus visit] sold me on coming there because she was good at the hurdles and she long jumped as well. I knew I wanted to be in a conference that was going to push me so I could get to the professional level that I wanted to.


“When I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to run in college, and I knew that I wanted to be an Olympian, but the aha moment for me came during my junior-senior year when I started to run at New Balance Nationals and get calls from coaches. It let me know I’m on somebody’s radar, and that means I can at least do this at a collegiate level. I even knew then that I wanted to run professionally. In choosing which university I went to, I tried to think long-term of how it would affect me later on down the road.”


Her first aha moment in college came when she made the USA Pan-American junior team.


“I had been trying out since my junior year of high school, but hadn’t succeeded in making the team,” Cunningham said. “When I was a sophomore in college, I was still young enough to try out for the under-20 team. I finally made it. That was an aha moment, because I finally got to be on a USA team and represent the country.”


Cunningham will continue to train until the opportunity to represent her country returns, but she is also tapping into her creative side. Cunningham considered herself an artsy kid before completely committing to track. Life during the pandemic has brought that side of her back to the forefront.


“I’ve been singing a lot more, posting some videos on my social media,” Cunningham said. “I would say that’s a hobby I’ve picked up during this.”


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