HAMPTON — Francena McCorory has spent millions of seconds on the track.

When the first-time Olympian was at Bethel High, she had to be coaxed into running her events by Bruins assistant track and field coach Cantrese Pierce.

"It's less than 60 seconds of your life," she told Francena, who threatened to quit before every race.

She didn't — and hasn't — quit. Francena, a 2010 Hampton University grad, is going to London to compete in the 2012 Olympics in the 400 meters and 4x400 relay for Team USA.

She'll be joined in London by three other Olympians with Peninsula ties — U.S. rifle coach and Hampton native Maj. Dave Johnson, 400-meter hurdler and Hampton High graduate T'Erea Brown, and 100-meter hurdler and HU product Kellie Wells.

As Francena prepares for her Olympic events, which start Aug. 3, the mark has changed from less than 60 seconds to 50.06 seconds. And she still remembers her godmother's words from high school.

After 23 years of adversity, Francena is prepared for those 50 seconds.


On an overcast Tuesday morning in July, the first part of Francena's training session with Hampton University director of track and field Maurice Pierce, her godfather, is running 300 meters in under 38 seconds. She gets into a three-point stance at the sound of Maurice's whistle and takes off on his cue.

Every 10 seconds, he blows a whistle so she knows her pace. Maurice doesn't like what he sees in the first 100 meters.

"She was holding her left arm too stiff instead of just letting it relax," he said. "If it's too stiff, you have to do too much work on the right side of the body."


Growing up

When Francena was growing up, Gloria McCorory remembers her daughter constantly running up and down the street. Francena loved games like "Red Light, Green Light" or "Hide and Go Seek." Francena always wanted to be "it" because she was the fastest and could catch everyone.

The McCororys — Francena and her six siblings — grew up in California, but Francena said they moved to Hampton around the time she was six when Gloria left Francena's father. Though Francena said life was better in Hampton, Gloria was a single mother with seven mouths to feed.

"She definitely worked a lot just trying to make sure we had the necessities," Francena said. "We always tell her that we appreciate it because she could've taken the easy way out and gave us all away or put us in a foster home."

When she was in seventh grade at Davis Middle School, Francena developed an instant connection with Cantrese, then her gym teacher. Cantrese, who was the junior varsity track coach at the time, encouraged Francena to run.

When Francena started at Bethel High, Cantrese moved to assistant track coach at Bethel. When Cantrese married Maurice, who was the women's track coach at Hampton University at the time, Francena was at the wedding.

Before Francena's junior year of high school, Cantrese approached her with an offer that, in retrospect, was a lot of pressure to put on a teenager.