Inspiration can be found near and far in Magnolia State

Published 10:00 am Saturday, June 26, 2021

I don’t think we ever grow out of needing to feel inspired, but it does feel like where we look for that inspiration changes as we grow older.

As a kid, my friends and I would watch Michael Jordan leading a Bulls dynasty to title after title or the smooth swing of Ken Griffey Jr. and we’d instantly hit the driveway or yard to try and emulate them.

We’d pick up a whiffle ball bat and try to wiggle it over our shoulder like Griffey did as he prepared to rip another home run. We’d try — and fail — to get the kind of air that Jordan did when he shot his baseline fall-away jumper.

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Pro athletes were easy heroes as ESPN and late night SportsCenter brought them into our living rooms in a way that had never been done before.

Inspiration has been on my mind of late, especially with last Sunday being Father’s Day.

As I sat at the table eating pancakes and opening gifts from my two kids, I felt a mixture of pride, happiness and contentment. I felt lucky and blessed. Most of all though, I felt inspired.

Inspired to truly be the person that they think I am.

It feels like my wife and I are in a sweet spot in our life as parents. Our youngest will be a fourth grader in August and our oldest will be in seventh grade.

It seems like I was just in junior high myself and I know how difficult that time period can be for kids, but that’s on the horizon and we’ll tackle any tough times when they come.

My kids probably don’t still think I’m Superman, but they still mostly laugh at my jokes and believe every word of the stories that I tell them.

Sometimes they might cringe or roll their eyes when I’ve got my Dad-factor turned up past 100, but I know they think I’m pretty great.

And knowing that inspires me to do want to be better as a person and as a dad.

I think it’s important that as parents, we do what we can to inspire our children, either with words or actions.

My daughter is running cross-country for the first time this year. I can tell her how proud I am of her and how awesome I think she is, and I know she hears and believes that.

But if I am willing and able to get out and go for a run with her, that means more than words.

My wife has run for years and it’s something that in the past I didn’t care for, but I’m learning to enjoy now.

Part of my desire to be able to get up and go for a three-mile run in the morning is because I want to be able to be active with my kids as they grow.

On a recent morning I was out with my running buddy and we were coming down Natchez Avenue. He was jogging and I was doing something more than a walk, but less than a run as the humidity had us strangling for breath.

I felt a whoosh of air go past me as another old friend ran by on a route of his own.

He’s someone that’s used cleaner eating habits and a commitment to physical activity to get into the best shape of his life over the last year.

He went from not being able to run a quarter mile to an athlete. He looked back at me and gave a thumbs up and I instantly felt my trot kick into a higher gear.

Seeing where he’s at compared to where he started on this path and how fast his pace was as he cut through the silent streets of Brookhaven, it made me want to be better, to try harder on my own journey.

If you’re looking to be inspired, sometimes you only need to look at your own family or your friends to find that spark.

And if your kids are needing someone to look up to on a higher athletic level than their dad and his friends training for a 5K, then they don’t have to look outside the state of Mississippi for that person.

Monday the US Olympic Track and Field Trials were shown in primetime on NBC from Eugene, Oregon.

As the women’s 1500-Meter race got ready to start, the broadcasters went over the favorites and likely qualifiers as the top three finishers would punch their ticket to the games later this summer in Tokyo.

One name that wasn’t mentioned pre-race but should be no stranger to sports fans in this state was Cory McGee.

McGee was an elite runner from an early age as she grew up in Pass Christian. Every year she dominated her competition in the state cross-country meet in the fall and then the distance events on the track in the spring.

She went on to run collegiately at the University of Florida.

Now 29 years old, her dream of qualifying for the Olympics was just that — a dream — until Monday night.

Elle Purrier St. Pierre broke the meet record in winning the one-mile race in a time of three minutes and 58.03 seconds. Purrier St. Pierre led wire-to-wire, but on her hip the entire time was McGee.

McGee never faltered and never let up as she finished second in 4:00.67 — a career best race in the biggest moment of her life.

She wasn’t the only Mississippian to shine in Eugene.

Sam Kendricks of Oxford finished second in pole vault and will represent the US in Tokyo. A first lieutenant in the US Army Reserves, Kendricks was a bronze medalist in the 2016 Olympics.

Another Mississippi native that’s already experienced Olympic success is Brittney Reese of Gulfport. Reese is trying to make her fourth Olympic team as a long jumper and will compete in the finals of that event Saturday. She already owns an Olympic silver and gold medal.

McGee, Kendricks and Reese are world class athletes that grew in places not too much different from where you sit now.

When their parents looked at them as fifth graders, they probably didn’t think they’d one day wear the red, white and blue for our national Olympic team. They may have hoped for it, but what parent doesn’t hope for their kid to reach the highest of highs.

In a week of some riveting finishes across pro and college sports, Mississippi has been well represented across the board.

Tuesday night Mississippi State, a team stacked with players from all over our state, completed an amazing comeback to beat Virginia in the NCAA College World Series.

MSU could easily have folded up shop when they went down early, but they scratched and clawed their way back into it.

What kept UVA from breaking the game wide open was a pitching change as MSU head coach Chris Lemonis went to the bullpen early.

He brought in Preston Johnson who got two strikeouts with the bases loaded to stop the bleeding. Johnson isn’t from San Diego or Dallas or Pittsburg. He’s from Crystal Springs, most likely just a short drive from where you are right now.

And while the CWS probably has had much of your attention, the NBA playoffs have also provided some high-level drama this week.

Tuesday the Clippers held a one-point lead with less than one second remaining over Phoenix.

The Suns used an alley-oop off a baseline out of bounds play to win the game in truly amazing fashion.

Phoenix snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and did so because they’ve got one of the hottest guards in the league on their team in sixth year pro, Devin Booker.

Booker is averaging 25.6 points per game, backs down from no one and has Phoenix up 2-1 and a pair of wins away from the NBA Finals.

He played high school basketball at Moss Point High School and is just another in a long line of examples that one can point to and say, “look at what that kid from Mississippi is doing.”

Need a little encouragement to get through the coming dog days or looking for someone you can point to and show a younger generation where you can go even if you’re from the smallest Mississippi town?

Look around, you really don’t have to look far to find that type of inspiration.

Cliff Furr is the sports editor at The Daily Leader. He can be reached at