When her tenure at the University of North Texas ends, junior swimmer Leigh Faires McGee plans on working as a Kindergarten teacher. Utilizing what she learns and experiences in the classroom, McGee is able to maximize her full potential as a teammate in and out of the pool.
“My mom was a teacher and it’s something I’ve wanted to do with my life,” McGee said. “One thing I’ve learned is that always having a good attitude helps yourself and your teammates. A good attitude and staying positive will allow people to look up to you and they can be the best version of themselves.”
McGee entered her third year with the Mean Green swim team after breaking multiple school records, including the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 49.73 seconds in her sophomore season. On that same day, she broke the 200-yard freestyle record with a time of 1:46.66. Head coach Brittany Roth believes McGee is an example of someone who can set the swim team in a positive direction.
“She has one of the intangible qualities that you just can’t teach to someone who embodies a leadership role,” Roth said. “Even in moments during practices and competition, she knows she must root for and help her other teammates in the process. Her being an education major and wanting to become a teacher fits perfectly because she loves to inspire and look out for other people.”
Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, McGee had a large family that enjoyed sports and quickly found herself participating in swimming. She holds two high school Mississippi state records with the 100-yard freestyle (51.13 seconds) and the 200-yard freestyle (1:49.61). McGee was selected for USA Swimming Scholastic All-America in 2016 and was a two-time club MVP in 2016 and 2017 with her former club team, the Mississippi Makos.
“Swimming was a simple sport for me to grow and learn,” McGee said. “I credit my parents to help push me to be the best swimmer I could be and enjoy participating in it as well.”
McGee tries to lead not only during practices and meets during the season but tries to be there for her teammates outside of the swimming activities as well. She has high expectations for herself and other teammates to excel in the classroom and training done away from the pool.
“What I’ve seen is she pushes myself and other teammates to be our best at everything we do,” junior swimmer Micayla Morgan said. “She is one of our captains for a reason. Her priorities are straight and [she] expects us all to be accountable for each other in the classroom, weight room and during the practices.”
To prepare for meets, McGee considers herself superstitious. As someone who has broken school records for swimming, she thought it was best to stick to what helped her in the past to retain her best results. Like with other sports, swimming can involve some of the same habits, including eating the same meal, wearing the same clothing or a specific music playlist to help stay motivated.
“Before meets, I usually wear the same socks leading up to the competition,” McGee said. “My teammates call me by my nickname, ‘Leaf,’ [because] the socks have leaves.”
As a freshman, McGee earned Conference USA awards such as C-USA Commissioner’s List Honor Roll and all-conference honors as a member of the third-place 400 freestyle relay team at the C-USA Championship during the 2017-18 season. In her sophomore season, she was named C-USA Swimmer of the Week for the week of Dec. 12, 2018. To McGee, the records and honors are special, but playing an essential role of the team means more to her.
“Although she has high expectations of herself specifically, I can see that she tries to be the best teammate, friend and leader before anything else,” Morgan said. “We just seem to click as friends and I can appreciate someone who wants the best out of me.”
Over the weekend of Sept. 28, the Mean Green swim team was led by McGee against Arkansas-Little Rock. McGee took first place in the 100, 200 and 500-freestyle races and was part of the first place finish from the 200-freestyle relay team.
“It was a good day,” Roth said. “[I’m] really proud of the girls, we’ve been training hard for a month now, so I know right now in their training cycle they’re really tired, but to see them fighting all the way through to the end of a meet is really encouraging.”
Featured Image: Junior Leigh Faires McGee swims at practice on Oct. 2, 2019. Faires holds the school record for the 100 and 200 freestyle. Image by Jordan Collard