Longhorn Hall of Honor: Nanceen Perry
Nov. 13, 2009
Nanceen Perry used to play with cows, because it was fun. That's how she started running, and that's what eventually brought her to The University of Texas.
Perry grew up in the pastures of Fairfield, Texas, and often joined her male cousins when they went out to badger young calves. The goal was to see who could then out-run the angry mamma cows.
"You had to be faster than that mean mamma," Perry says. "And if you weren't fast enough, it wasn't something you should mess with.
"I just liked to run."
That joy followed Perry throughout her UT career. She was an All-American, an NCAA Champion and became an Olympic medalist. She propelled the Longhorns to four-straight NCAA team titles in 1998 and 1999.
These phenomenal achievements belie Perry's calm, cool demeanor. Texas head coach Beverly Kearney remembers watching Perry prepare for high school races by sitting cross-legged behind the starting line, eating a candy bar and reading a book.
Perry may have been casual and carefree -- but she was always a champion and, most of all, a teammate.
"I'd rather practice than compete," Perry says. "I grew up running on dirt roads, running with the boys.
"But didn't like to lose, and I definitely didn't like letting anybody down."
In one memorable 4x100-meter relay in 1998, Perry readied to make a baton pass forward to teammate Angie Vaughn. A good pass would help UT win the event, and a national title.
But when Vaughn put her hand behind her back, it was overcome with something between a tremble and tremor. Perry, going full speed, still noticed this. Without breaking stride, she took and steadied Vaughn's hand, placing the baton safely inside.
The Longhorns brought home the baton -- and the NCAA crown.
"That's Nanceen," Kearney says. "You could always count on 100 percent effort, no matter what."
As a sophomore, Perry won the 200 meters at the 1997 NCAA Indoor Championships, and ran the second leg on UT's 4x100-meter relay teams that won national titles at the 1998 and 1999 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
And Perry's 22.55 mark during preliminaries at the 1999 NCAA Outdoor Championships still stands as the fastest 200-meter time in school history.
Perry was a prolific sprinter for the Longhorns, but didn't become so with perfect form or perfect strategy. She was a product of raw force and athleticism. In high school, Perry excelled out on the track, but also in the long jump and triple jump.
"I was good at it, but I hated jumping," Perry says. "I hated getting my feet dirty, so I just ran."
On the track, Perry's singular focus was blowing out of the blocks, and doing it faster than the person next to her.
"I didn't have any form," Perry says. "I just got out there and turned left."
Perry earned a degree in psychology in 1999. After leaving UT, Perry qualified for the 2000 Olympics and also won the 200-meter title at the 2000 USA Indoor Championships.
Today, Perry is a behavioral specialist in the Mexia Independent School District, and has two children, Noah and Nadia.
"What I remember about those years was we were more of a family than a team," Perry says. "It was always bigger than just me. We had a unity -- we were a unit."