GMC’s McMullen adept at handling unexpected
The average summer Friday night text of the average high school student no doubt deals with boredom, a desire to get out of the house and move out of town or of hopes to get out of work the next day with plans to head to the beach.
Calli McMullen was in no way the average high school student.
Take a text on a Friday night a few weeks ago:
“I’ll actually be with the governor and his wife around that time.”
It kind of makes anybody sleeping in on a Saturday feel a little inferior.
But that’s where McMullen was two weeks ago, joining the rest of the state’s high school valedictorians for the annual Valedictorian Day at the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta.
The visit to the capital came nearly three weeks before McMullen heads off to college … at West Point … where she was unconditionally accepted early this year, in the process becoming the first minority female from GMC to receive such an honor.
The achievement was celebrated at a ceremony that included Congressman Jody Hice and all sorts of higher ups in the GMC community.
“Because of his attendance, I knew how big this was, and I knew how supportive the community was behind me,” said McMullen, the youngest of three children of Calvin and Rebecca McMullen. “To have all these people, the board of trustees, the alumni board of GMC, to attend, it was so amazing. It was (heartwarming) to see how many people really cared about me, were willing to support me in that process.”
Those nights of staying up past midnight to fill out the scores of applications and piles of paperwork just to be considered by a military academy paid off.
Now, McMullen will try to alternately relax and work out more before she leaves Friday for college and reports at 6 a.m. on June 27. Then, she’ll begin to take on the rigors of academics at West Point, but being the valedictorian at GMC Prep, and being part of 11 state championships as a member of GMC’s girls track team, should help.
And she’ll take with her an ever-expanding resume that now includes being named The Telegraph’s Martha Pennyman Scholar-Athlete Award winner for the 2015-16 school year.
McMullen can’t predict anything accurately about her future, because none of her accomplishments were part of her mindset as recently as her freshman year. That makes her GHSA Class A public school track championships in the 400 meters (three of them), high jump (one) and running legs on five championship relays while helping the Bulldogs to state titles in 2015 and 2016 as improbable as her even visiting West Point last fall.
Her stint as yearbook photographer is where the track and field career started. All she was doing was taking pictures at a meet her freshman year when a coach nudged her to the high jump pit.
“Because I was a classical ballerina, the high jump coach figured I’d be good at high jumping,” McMullen said. “So he promised me that I would only be high jumping.”
Part of McMullen’s ascent also involves a little fibbing, to herself and by others.
“The first few practices, they were like, ‘OK, you’re in the high jump, stay over there with the jumpers,’ ” she said. “Then the sprints coach got mad at the girls one day and was like, ‘OK, every single person, line up on the line.’ So all the girls lined up, and I’m like, ‘I’m not ready for this.’ ”
Indeed. She was wearing footwear more attuned to cheerleading than sprinting. No matter. Her speed was evident as she passed teammates. Soon enough, a coach’s wife suggested McMullen should start working on the 400.
So her freshman year was basically a tryout year and a good one for somebody who was athletic but not necessarily a sports athlete. Her ballet career began at age 2.
She won the state 400 title as a sophomore, her first year of true competition.
“That was a blast, getting to win the championship and then the coaches drive me and my friend all the way to Disney for our class trip,” McMullen said. “So it was like winning state and getting to go to Disneyland afterwards. That was really fun.”
That year started a rivalry of sorts with teammate and classmate Sutton Long, a multi-sport standout at GMC who will play softball at Georgia College.
“We would always come (in) one and two, two and one,” McMullen said. “It would always play back and forth. So that was an experience for me, and I think it grew both of us as athletes.”
So continued the rise in track. She was fifth in the state in the high jump as a sophomore, then second and the champion this year. She won the 400 two more times and was second this year in the 200. McMullen also ran a leg on the 4×100 and 4×400 relays that have five championship in her three years of participating.
“My coaches always tell me things, and I’ve had to learn to say, ‘OK, Coach, I trust you,’ ” McMullen said. “I’m the type of person that until I achieve the goal, I can’t say that, ‘OK, I’m going to do it.’ ”
Life keeps throwing her a curve, and McMullen — a one-act play regular as well as busy with her church — keeps making powerful contact. Coaches tell her what they expect her to accomplish.
“At the beginning of the season, my coaches told me, ‘This year, Calli, you’re going to win the high-point trophy at the state track meet,’ ” McMullen said. “Did I believe it? Absolutely not. But the faith that I put in them, and the faith that I put in the work that they make me do, that’s what led to achieving the goal.”
Which she did last month with two individual firsts and a second and the two winning relay teams.
She long ago had her sights set on going to college somewhere in North Carolina, where her family vacations and where she has attended multiple church camps. Going to college at an academy wasn’t on the radar. Of course it wasn’t. Nor was being named last year as Baldwin County’s representative in the state’s Distinguished Young Woman scholarship program, where she was the first runner-up, one place ahead of Shelby Burnette of Houston County.
The first to suggest West Point was Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Swars her freshman year, but she was too busy. Other hints came and went. Then Delarrion Milner, who preceded McMullen as Battalion Commander by a few years, knew she was starting to stress out about the future and called her around the start of her senior year.
She mentioned several schools, and Milner, at the Air Force Academy, asked if there was room for an academy in her thought process. At that very second, there wasn’t, but that changed.
“He was like, ‘Calli, you know what? Everybody’s going to try to push you to go to West Point, but go if that’s what you want to do,’ ” McMullen said. “So from there, I started looking into the process.”
Again, there was McMullen, starting something she never planned on. More so, she had almost no faith that she was qualified to get into West Point. Then, out of the blue, a track coach at Army called her and talked her into a visit, a trip that, at the time, was almost merely a courtesy.
“Again, I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll go for the visit, but I really highly doubt that I can get into this school,’ ” she said. “So I go up there, and I absolutely fall in love with the campus.”
Fast forward to January when she gets the call that only six months ago was nowhere on her agenda, that she has been unconditionally accepted to West Point. She’s used to the schedule: out of bed early, inspections, breakfast, classes, working out and track practice followed by studying.
There is a five-year commitment after college is over. Up until about 10 months ago, there was no legitimate discussion of a military career. Now, she’s already looking ahead to retiring from the military.
Her current career path is focused on dentistry, one of the few parts of McMullen’s plans that actually have started and stayed with her for a period of time. She’ll continue a family military legacy that, she said, skipped her parents but was a major part of both of her grandfathers’ lives.
The girl who was Clara in “Nutcracker” in the eighth grade and then a fairy in the same play and the Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” as a senior, sat on the lap of a grandfather losing the battle to Alzheimer’s who perked up at the mention of his service.
“Even when he was in that decaying mental state, he would go on these rants, and he would always talk about his military brother that’s still sitting by him in the window,” McMullen said. “He never forgot that old saying, ‘Old soldiers never die.’
“That just stuck with me. Even when his mind was decaying, he was able to remember that. To be able to continue that legacy, in my own mind, is something I’m looking forward to.”
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