Trey Cunningham: What Small Towns Can Do For Your Career


"Adults like to tell kids to find something they love for a job so it never seems like work. Track and field is one of my loves. In truth, practices never feel like work, even the hardest of ones."


By Trey Cunningham - Winfield City (AL) High School, Class of 2017

Florida State University '21


    Winfield, Alabama, is a town of about 4,500 people, three stop lights, one school system, southern hospitality, rich tradition, gossip, Mule Day, support, and quiet and simple living.

    People find it interesting I come from such a small town. This new found information of where I grew up usually comes with two questions: What was it like growing up there? How did you live there?

    The first is answered with a long or short response of Winfield being my reality. It was the place I called home and the only place I ever lived, so it was my life. The second question is answered with a stout defense because sometimes people give the rural south a bad name.


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    I don't stand for the bad mouthing unless they have lived in it.

    These small town success stories get labeled as humble beginnings. The hometown hero who got out.

    But this idea of escaping doesn't do these stories justice. The headlines should read: 

    Extremely Lucky Boy Capitalized On Opportunities; He Beat The Odds To Become The Best; Boy Gets Uncomfortable To Growor Boys Runs At Solid Objects To Put Food On Table. On top of a better headline, each story should highlight the way in which each person makes it to the big leagues. Not a sob story about how the town is tiny, dying or has nothing going.

    Being from the small town, I noticed a few things that helped me become one of the fastest hurdlers in high school history.

    The first is a love for the sport. Adults like to tell kids to find something they love for a job so it never seems like work. Track and field is one of my loves. In truth, practices never feel like work, even the hardest of ones. This love is important for the days it gets hard, for the days when coach can't help with the event or for when no one is there to push you. If there is a genuine love, the work will become something desired, not just a step in the process.


    There are times where hurdles keep getting in the way -- the bounce off of the track isn't there and it is a bad day overall. But when you stay gritty and don't give up on the love, goals or aspirations, you learn something each time.


    Pursing that type of love for a long period of time, though, also needs a fair amount of grit, and it is extremely important.

    Grit would be the second thing that helped me achieve success. There are times where hurdles keep getting in the way -- the bounce off of the track isn't there and it is a bad day overall. But when you stay gritty and don't give up on the love, goals or aspirations, you learn something each time. The times where grit is needed most will build confidence in you, and it will benefit you more than any training will ever. When confidence rises, so will performance.

    The last thing that benefited me the most coming from a small town are the connections made. Through these connections I found mentors, friends and a support system that pushed me. Without these connections, I would have never competed in summer track. Without the connections, I would have never ran outside of Alabama against the best in the country. Without these connections, I wouldn't have found out I had to push compare what I did the day before to myself, not my competitors.

    These emotions, hard work and skills can be learned. Like any muscle, the love can grow, gritty people can become more gritty and adding connections will never hurt. The love I have for track and field has grown with time. Grit has become the definition of what it means when trying to shave tenths and hundredths off. People get added to Team Trey every year. Each one helps build my network and provide someone who could help.

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    Want some advice? Ask Trey Cunningham a question using #AskTrey, or DM Trey on Instagram @trey826 or on Twitter @TreyCunningham. One of these questions will be picked to be answered in the next column.