Rounding the track during the final lap of her college career, Emma Gee was out of breath as the last ounce of adrenaline kicked in. Gee is no stranger to adversity and was going to prove to others what she had already proven to herself: she is capable of pushing boundaries.
“Everyone has a story worth telling,” said Gee, a master’s in management student. “Everyone deserves to be seen.”
Gee holds several accolades in the 3,000-meter steeplechase event, like coming in 17th place at the 2021 NCAA track and field championships and holding Temple’s record in the event, even beating it three times. However, her proudest accomplishment is coming out as bisexual in 2018, she said.
Gee first came out while she was attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Although her teammates were accepting of her, she felt out of place in the conservative climate. Rules in the university’s honor code prohibiting homosexual behavior on campus prevented her from being open about her sexuality.
This rule was later changed by the university in February of 2020 in unison with similar alterations made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, CNN reported.
Gee had already transferred to Temple a month before, though, because of the accepting environment, staff and scholarship offer she received, she said.
“Ultimately I decided it is probably best that I finish my running somewhere else, in an environment that doesn’t discriminate against me,” she added.
As a runner, Gee felt that coming out helped her focus solely on her craft. As a person, coming out made her feel like she was representing more than just herself every time she stepped onto the track, allowing her to better understand herself and become more successful while at Temple, Gee said.
“From what I did experience, Temple is a very open and accepting place,” Gee added. “In terms of athletics it’s a much smaller program and the training is just different.”
Temple quickly became home for Gee. She no longer had to juggle feeling like she had to hide her sexuality with the pressure of Division I athletics, allowing her to succeed on the track in the 2021 season, her first season with the Owls, Gee said.
Gee ran a 9:56.19 in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA championships in 2021, a personal best in the final race of her career. During her high school career at Legacy High School in Broomfield, Colorado, she was told she was too slow for the mile and did not have the mileage for the 5000-meter. That doubt only pushed her to work harder, she said.
“Through all of this, something that I definitely hold onto is that all of the decisions I’ve made hopefully in my life are just to create a better relationship with myself,” Gee added.
Cavender Salvadori, the director of operations and assistant coach for the cross country team, trained Gee in the steeplechase last season, helping her become a nationally ranked runner.
“She is one of the best racers I’ve ever worked with,” Salvadori said. “She had this air or vibe about her that was like ‘I’m going to do what it takes to do this.”’
Gee and Salvadori met in August of 2020 at preseason practices, and the duo became friends quickly, Salvadori said.
“We both just connected about being in the [LGBTQ] community,” Salvadori said.
Last steeple season proved to be Gee’s favorite both on and off the track, thanks in part to her coaches and teammates alike.
Head cross country and assistant track and field coach James Snyder was one of the main reasons Gee came to Temple, and played a key role in her development last season by instilling confidence in Gee and allowing her to be herself. Snyder has spent eight years as a Temple coach, yet Gee has stood out to him in many ways, he said.
“I think one of the aspects of [Gee’s] persona is her dedication, determination and ability to focus on a goal,” Snyder added. “There were a million reasons at BYU that would have led her to not being successful.”
For Gee, uncomfortable circumstances thrown her way have allowed her to find happiness, she added.
“Everything I’ve been through gives me the confidence for what is coming in the future,” Gee said. “I am my own hero.”