Louisiana State University’s most decorated female athlete, and 21 time All American – Muna Lee – is set to join Altis: “Muna is one of the most talented athletes I have ever had the pleasure of working with” said Recruitment Director, Andreas Behm. “She is like a human spring and packs plenty of pop despite her slender frame. We look forward to having her come train with us in Arizona.”
Muna made her first Olympic Final in 2004, where she tied for 7th in the 200m. The following year, she was part of the gold medal winning women’s 4 x 100m relay team at the World Championships in Athletics. In 2008, Lee claimed her first national title in impressive style at the Olympic Trials, where she won the women’s 100m in a personal best time of 10.85 seconds. In the same year, at the Summer Olympics in Beijing she competed at the 100m, in which she placed in fifth position with a time of 11.07 seconds.
A year later, Lee’s second place finish at the US Championships saw her qualify for the 2009 World Championships in Athletics. Lee was also part of a United States 4 x 100 m relay team who posted the fastest women’s sprint relay time in twelve years shortly before the start of the World Championships that same year. The stellar quartet consisting of Lauryn Williams, Allyson Felix, Lee and Carmalita Jeter posted a time of 41.58 seconds, bringing them to what was then eighth on the IAAF all-time list.
We spoke to Muna to find out more.
Muna, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Let’s start with a little background … what is your home town?
I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but I was raised in Kansas City, Missouri. So I’m conflicted about where I’m from, but Kansas City is my home and I’ll claim the Chiefs and Royals forever!
How old are you?
I am 32 but will be 33 October 30th and I am not very excited because it’s on a Thursday this year. Which means I have practice!
You’ve been studying at LSU, could you tell us a little about your time there, and your plans for going back to complete your degree?
I loved being at LSU! It’s the best school for athletic experience. If you haven’t been to a football game there you should put that on your to-do list. I actually completed my degree May 16th. I am a College Grad!!
Awesome, congratulations Muna! So moving onto Track & Field, what are your current PR’s?
60m – 7.13, 100m 10.85/10.78w, 200m 22.01/21.98w
Moving forward, are you planning on focusing more on the 100m or 200m, or a combination of both?
I want to focus on the 200m. I have never trained for it specifically. It’s about time I face the facts…I am a 200m runner who can run the 100m or the 400m. I would rather not go up but if it’s what it takes then so be it.
Have you competed in other sports?
I started off as a swimmer/diver from the time I was 4 until high school. I played basketball. I actually got to play a 3 on 3 against Cheryl Swoop, Lisa Leslie, and Rebecca Lobo in high school and sat down with Sue Gunter and Pokey Chapman my freshman year to maybe play but it conflicted with track.
When you’re not on the track, what do you do?
I like to design things and draw. I just finished my first track t shirt blanket and I’m working on a hand crafted t shirt. Hopefully I can find some fashion related activities in Phoenix.
What has been the highlight of your career in Track & Field so far?
I think one of my main high lights is that at one point in time I was the only American athlete to place top 5 in the Olympics in two events and set PR’s. It may not be a big deal to y’all but it is to me. I always joke about holding the record for the fastest time out of lane 1 in the 200 meters.
Can you tell us about the 2008 Games, where you made the finals in the 100m and 200m; what was that like, and what did it mean to you?
There wasn’t a lot of pressure. Coach Henry, Coach Anderson, and Coach Andreas all prepared me mentally and physically. The 100 meter race still haunts me to this day. I know I should have medalled and PR’d. How could I have not!! I just forgot one of the key basic things…wait for the gun. I cried that night and basically the next day, came back for the 200 and ran a personal record from lane 9. Not being able to run the 4×1 hurt too. I sat in drug testing with Allyson and just watched. Just being able to compete in 2 Olympics is a blessing but placing 4th is hard especially when you run the fastest you ever have and not get anything in return. It can crush a person. You have to be a strong person to endure that over and over.
How do you maintain your focus on a big stage such as the Olympic Games?
I really don’t focus on that. My coach does and I take it a day at a time. As long as I continue to improve and stay healthy, things should fall into place. It has always been a matter of not stressing for me. I’m a worrier and like to see results right away. Maybe that’s the competitor in me.
What has been your favorite meet to compete at so far and why?
I’ve always like competing in Eugene. It’s my favorite track. It’s just something about that track that always get my legs rolling!
Who do you like competing against?
I liked competing with Lauryn Williams. No matter what we have always helped each other. I used to see her at big meets and she would be so nervous. I would say the same thing Coach Henry and Coach Shaver always say to me…you don’t have to do anything more than what you do in practice. So relax!! She would smile and we would both make teams together.
What’s your favorite movie?
Casablanca! So classic…and the clothes are just amazing. Nowadays I watch the Karate Kid movies over and over. Mainly because I know what it feels like to be bullied, they are great come back movies, and because I just want to kick the bell like Jaden Smith did! I tell my Sensei that all the time. If I don’t learn anything else, can I at least kick the bell!!
And your favorite meal?
Habachi! Plus desserts.
Do you have a sporting hero?
I’m a huge Scottie Pippen and Larry Bird fan. Also Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
What’s on your playlist if you listen to music before competitions?
Because I have always had anxiety problems, I listen to a lot of Classical Piano to stay calm. I have a mixture of rap, rock and R&B but mostly all of it is old school.
What are your career goals in Track & Field?
Honestly, I haven’t written them down yet.
What do you hope to be doing after your athletic career is finished?
I will either coach or start a high fashion line and be awesome…or both. Anything is possible.
What do you think Track and Field needs to do to build its popularity in North America?
I think American Track and Field loses so many followers because we only promote the big names. Not everyone can relate to the big names and when they do show us, its drug related, other countries, or only for a hour on TV. What the commentators says is pretty much what the world believes. They also should be more creative with the way they promote by making the competitions more fun. Have a fantasy track league or group competitions, and host East coast / West coast championships.
“I think American Track and Field loses so many followers because we only promote the big names. Not everyone can relate to the big names…”
They can have charity event races, co-ed relays with other sports, have track athlete help build houses in communities and cameras follow around a bunch of athlete rather than just one. People today like reality TV, why not follow around a college team or a pro group? Let the world see the personalities, see the hard work and dedication. What its like to be a profession track and field athlete while seeing the world. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I have so many ideas! I just hope when someone does decided to do these things that I’m involved.
What does success look like to you?
Stability, love, and happiness.
What are the three most important factors that for you personally determine your success?
1. Be confident
2. Be powerful.
3. Be extraordinary.
What motivates you to reach this success?
Someone told me “Be good. Sounds like you’re built for it.” I realized I won’t have this talent forever. So I’m going to be good in everything.
What has prevented you from succeeding in the past?
Being shy and injuries. I’ve also been told I need to look a certain way. Everybody knows I’m a rebel and versatility is a great quality to have but when I’m working I really don’t try to impress anyone but with my time and place in Track. If we’re talking about being off the track…well I’m always willing and ready to embrace my awesomeness!
What can prevent you from succeeding in the future?
Only death but I still feel like I can make an impact from my grave. Always have a positive mind!
Why did you choose to join Altis?
They are trying to do things here that other countries already do; that is – perfect the skill element of training. To have a facility, coaches, and doctors all in one place is a big deal. Who wouldn’t want that?! I feel like the only way I can’t succeed there is if I let it happen myself. Plus Coach Andreas and Aries Merritt is there! Two of my favorite people in the world to hang around. Andreas knows my style and my personality, so we’re already familiar with each other on and off the track; and of course … Dan Pfaff – who wouldn’t want to pick his brain as a professional athlete?
“To have a facility, coaches, and doctors all in one place is a big deal. Who wouldn’t want that?!”
What are you most looking forward to about being based here?
I will forever be in a class room on and off the track. I think this is the perfect environment to learn to teach and perfect my craft.
Is there anything you are dreading?!
The heat and the 1st two weeks of practice. I don’t know which one I will dread more. Everyone knows the 1st two weeks are the sorest you will ever be…with the heat, I might melt.
Muna is on Twitter, you can follow her here.