Born: October 30, 1981
Growing up in Kansas City, Muna Lee was convinced she would one day play in the WNBA. But a simple request in the sixth grade pointed her life in a completely different direction.
A Kansas City track legend, Lee participated in the United States Olympic Trials as a senior at Central High School, where she was a four-time state champion in the 100 meters and 200 meters (1997-2000). After high school she went to LSU, where she was a seven-time NCAA champion, a 12-time Southeastern Conference champion and 21-time All-American.
After college, Lee represented the U.S. in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic games. She also was part of the U.S. 2005 world champion 4×100m relay and was the 100-meter runner-up that year. She is, quite simply, one of the most decorated track athletes in Missouri state history, and its why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted her as a member of the Class of 2023.
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Lee grew up in Kansas City, participating in every sport from swimming to basketball, gymnastics to track. But mostly, she followed her brother, Keith, around town.
“I chased my brother around in every sport,” Muna Lee said. “Whatever he did I had to do but I had to be great at it or I couldn’t be on his team. At the time he was the greatest athlete in town, and I didn’t want to be on anyone else’s team.”
In sixth grade, Lee was asked by her English teacher and gym teacher to run track.
“It was all history after that,” she said.
Lee blossomed on the track, eventually becoming the top short-distance runner in the country while still in high school. She was so good as a senior, she qualified for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials, where she rubbed elbows with some the sport’s greats.
“It was very intimidating,” Lee said. “I lined up in the same heat with Gail Devers. I was maybe 110-pounds soaking wet. She turned to me and told me to just relax and to do what I’d always been doing. That’s how I made it out of the first round. Gail and Jackie Joyner-Kersee were so proud of me afterward.”
Lee ran 11.36 seconds in the 100m during the Trials, the best time in the nation by an amateur that year.
Lee had to be convinced that she should even attend the trials. Her classmates pushed her over the proverbial finish line.
“I honestly didn’t want to go to the Olympic Trials, but all my high school friends and peers kept donating all their lunch money,” she said. “They believed in me, so I had to go do my best. From there, my confidence went up a lot and so did my focus. I studied Marion Jones before I went. I sat with my coaches and watched video on how to get out of the blocks faster.”
After her life-changing experience at the Olympic Trials, Lee went on to a dominant career at LSU, winning indoor NCAA titles in the 60m (2003, 2004) and 200m (2002, 2003), while leading LSU to three 4x100m relay championships (2001, 2003, 2004) during the outdoor season.
But despite all of those competitive milestones and achievements, Lee fondly remembers two things in particular about her time in Baton Rouge.
Food and football.
“Learning how to eat crawfish and open up crabs,” she said. “I was allowed to eat everywhere for free a lot of times. I could walk in places, and they would say Olympians could eat free. I never spoke a word other than ‘thank you’ half of the time. I was still very quiet and shy back then. And the football games were amazing. I have a lot of fun at Chiefs games, but LSU games are just as fun except a lot more dancing and well-known songs and chants.”
Coming from an athletic family was definitely an added plus for Lee. In addition to Keith, Lee’s sister, Mecca, was an outstanding multi-sport athlete like her sister. They are among many who had a profound impact on her career.
“My siblings drive me and push me to this day,” Lee said. “My very first track coach, Fred Murrell, is another who helped me. I copied everything that he did when I started training under him. I’m his mini-me.
“Several coaches had a hand in my success, and I keep in touch with almost all of them. They’re like parents to me, forever. And I appreciate every single one of them.”