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Hometown Hopefuls: Trey Cunningham reflects on first pro season and talks Paris 2024 dreams

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Two

EUGENE, OREGON - JULY 16: Trey Cunningham of Team United States reacts after competing in the Men’s 110 High Hurdles heats on day two of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field on July 16, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.

U.S. hurdler Trey Cunningham, 24, had an impressive 2022 season after making his pro debut and earning his first world silver medal at last year’s 2022 World Championships. The Winfield, Alabama native also picked up two NCAA titles and received the Bowerman Award during his final season at Florida State. He’s set to compete this weekend at the 2023 U.S. Track and Field Championships for a spot on this year’s world team. Cunningham opens up about his time at FSU, what his first year as a pro athlete was like, and his dreams for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your first love in sports was actually basketball – how did you end up in track and field? Why the 110m hurdles?

Trey Cunningham: I actually thought I was going to play in the NBA. I was going to college at Duke, I had the whole thing planned out. I would play for the Celtics. All of that stuff. But I found my actual love, track and field, eventually. I was just drawn to the hurdles right from the jump. No one made me do it. I wanted to do it. I wasn’t great at the beginning. But it turns out [the sport] loved me back. I got better at it and now we’re here.

Do you remember the specific moment when you thought, “this is the sport for me”?

Cunningham: My freshman year of high school, but I would say I had the dream to be a professional athlete my junior or senior year of high school because I was starting to do some crazy things on the track. I realized this could be pretty fun to do for a job.

Did you grow up watching the Olympics at all?

Cunningham: Oh, my family is big on the Olympics. I remember being a little kid watching the 2008 Games in Beijing and staying up till like 2 AM watching everything. We would watch table tennis, we watched basketball, we watched literally anything on. I was just so fascinated with the whole thing.

RELATED: How to watch the 2023 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships

Switching gears - tell me about your time at FSU – what led to your decision to go there and how did it shape you into the athlete you are today?

Cunningham: I found myself at Florida State because of track, but I chose them because I felt at home--meaning if track ended, I would be happy there. So I went there. No one from my school had ever been to Florida State. My family is either Alabama or Auburn, through and through. [FSU] continues to feel like home. I even bought a house there recently so I’m excited to see where that is going to take me.

I learned to refine my confidence because I had to adapt and change to that environment. It was a totally different place I’ve never been before. I had to make new friends. I had to go to classes that challenged me. I had to figure out how to navigate even higher hurdles.

2022 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Outdoor Track & Field Championship

EUGENE, OREGON - JUNE 10: Trey Cunningham of Florida State reacts after winning the 110m hurdles during the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field on June 10, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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Fast forward to the 2022 season. If you were to give me one word to describe the 2022 season, not just in track and field but in life in general, what would it be and why?

Cunningham: Fruition. Last year was a year of [reaping] what I’ve put the work in for and realizing that it’s a feasible thing -- going pro and then winning a medal at the world championships and finishing up the season pretty strongly.

In 2022, you won 2 NCAA titles, a world silver medal, you took home collegiate track and field’s most prestigious award, the Bowerman – these are just a few of your many accomplishments last year. Which means the most to you?

Cunningham: I don’t know. My world medal for sure but the Bowerman award is such a prestigious honor. So many things have to go right for you to win it. You have to have the committee vote, the fan vote, and the previous winners who believe you deserve it. There were so many things outside of my control, and to be picked among those people... It’s impressive.

Why do you think you were able to be so successful last season? Why were you able to make these things come to, in your word, “fruition”?

Cunningham: I think it was more so the focus of what this year was about and that was enjoying what I do and getting out of my way.

How did you manage to stay out of your own way?

Cunningham: I didn’t too put much pressure on it. It’s still 10 hurdles, regardless of wherever we’re at.

I want to talk about the 2022 World Championships. A lot happened at the 110m Hurdles Final in Oregon – walk me through your experience.

Cunningham: That was probably the most talked about race of World Championships. The beloved home boy (Devon Allen) got DQ’d and the reigning Olympic champion (Hansle Parchment) didn’t even make it to the start line. Like I said earlier, it’s still 10 hurdles and I had to execute my race with all this chaos going on. The crowd was booing because Devon [Allen] was being told to leave the track. So I mean, it was kind of an awkward moment, really. And then it turned into a beautiful one where I got to get the flag behind me and do a victory lap.

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Three

EUGENE, OREGON - JULY 17: Trey Cunningham of Team United States celebrates after winning silver in the Men’s 110m Hurdles Final on day three of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field on July 17, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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RELATED: Football, False Starts and Family: Devon Allen opens up about his dual-sport career

What do you remember thinking and feeling in the moment?

Cunningham: This is just a surreal thing. All these people were ecstatic just because of a 13 second moment in their life, and even my life, it didn’t feel like 13 seconds. That race felt like forever.

Fast forward to this season – what does life look like for you right now?

Cunningham: I’m adjusting to not being a college athlete anymore. Earning my respect in the pro ranks because I only did a few races last year and continuing to put out some fast times.

Would you say that those are your goals for 2023 and 2024?

Cunningham: I’d definitely like to add a few medals in there.

You finished fourth at 2021 Olympic Trials. What is the atmosphere like at an Olympic Trials? Given how difficult it is to make the U.S. Olympic team, can you talk about what that energy is like?

Cunningham: It’s harder to make the U.S. team than it is to make the world championship final. Some of the people who were at the world championships wouldn’t even make it to our final in the U.S. It’s really cutthroat. It’s a serious event. But I mean, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What did you learn from your experience at the Tokyo Olympic Trials?

Cunningham: I learned resilience and that I can do things when the odds are against me. Also confidence because I had to go out there and compete in a situation where I wasn’t healthy. I was working with two thirds of hamstring on one side-- I had torn it and didn’t even know if I could make it down the track and then ultimately, I PB’d three times, basically. It just built a lot of confidence that I can do it when I need to.

How are you feeling health wise, mentally and physically for the 2023 season?

Cunningham: Optimistic because this is going to be my first time as a true professional. I don’t get the little introductory phase anymore. I think it’s all about trying to refine what I was doing last year and making sure we execute on that.

How much would having an opportunity to represent U.S. at the 2024 Paris Olympics mean to you?

Cunningham: I would just be so excited. It’s one of the dreams that I wanted to accomplish and having a dream like that is absurd anyway, because it’s not a normal thing to do. But it’s my reality, and I would just be over the moon for it.

What’s your relationship with your USA teammates Grant Holloway and Devon Allen?

Cunningham: I tell people all the time the hurdlers are nice. We’re all friendly to each other but when we’re at the track meet, it’s all business. But I can text any of them, call them and they’ll be there if I needed them.

You penned a thoughtful tribute to your high school coach Steve Reaves — can you talk about how he’s impacted your career?

Cunningham: I mean that man gets nothing but love for me. He didn’t have all the tools to help me but he put me in situations where I could make it happen. He allowed me to go to the National High School meetings when he didn’t have to. He let me run other events to break up the monotony of beating everybody by like three seconds in high school. That man supports me no matter what.

Speaking of your support system, tell me about your family and how they’ve supported your career.

Cunningham: My family is all about sports. That’s what we do. Everyone that played a sport is a state champion. My mom played basketball in college at Alabama. I had an aunt that played basketball at Auburn. My granddad played football at Alabama and he had two brothers that played in the SEC as well. I was the odd ball. I did track; everyone liked the ball sports. But coming from a family that competes at a high level and expects that level of work, they understand what I’m going through. But I’m the first one to go professional in any sport. It’s interesting and exciting for all of them.

What are you passionate about outside of track and field?

Cunningham: Well, I’m currently I’m passionate about my thesis for my master’s degree in Sports Management, because I can’t wait for that to be done. I love to read. I’ll read anything and everything. I love going to the beach, meeting new people, and hanging out with my friends.

Visit for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.