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Coach Steve McGill


Article by Melinda Burris

Photography by Melinda Burris

Steve McGill is an educator and private hurdles coach in Mooresville, NC. Steve has published two books: a biography, A Hurdler’s Hurdler: The Life of Rodney Milburn, Olympic Champion; and an instructive book, The Art of Hurdling: A Manual for Hurdle Coaches. He is also the webmaster of In this interview, Steve discusses the numerous sources of inspiration that drove him to embrace the sport of hurdles.

Competing in the 1981 Weltklasse meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, Renaldo Nehemiah broke the world record in the 110-meter hurdles, establishing his dominance as the first athlete to finish that race in under 13 seconds—coming in at 12.93 seconds. 

Unfortunately, Steve wasn’t able to personally witness Nehemiah’s momentous feat due to his youth and the geographical distance. However, as fate would have it, just two short years later, Steve’s high school coach showed him a VHS recording documenting Nehemiah's powerful, game-changing performance.

The sheer talent, determination, and obvious love of the sport Nehemiah exuded inspired Steve and countless others to commit to hurdling. Granted, some student-athletes pursued learning the art of hurdling for only a short time. However, others, like Steve, have truly embraced hurdling and the philosophy behind it, actively incorporating practical applications acquired from their personal experience with this art form into not only their coaching style but also in their very approach to life. 

Currently, Steve is penning a biography of Renaldo Nehemiah. Steve explains that when he first began his in-depth research into Nehemiah, it so changed his perception of the sport that he began to see hurdling as an art form. Steve asserts Nehemiah inspired him because “he made something so difficult look effortless.”

“Before Milburn, hurdlers had all run in the same style—three steps and a jump. Milburn sprinted between the hurdles.”

Rodney Milburn

While contemplating how to bring his book chronicling the life and achievements of  Rodney Milburn to fruition, Steve learned Milburn was survived by a brother, Jimmy. Sadly, Rodney Milburn had died tragically many years earlier, at the age of 47.

Happily, Milburn’s brother agreed to cooperate. Steve recalls he found the collaboration with Jimmy beneficial in more ways than one: Jimmy served as a liaison between Steve and other members of Milburn’s family making it possible for Steve to include recollections of family and friends. 

The opportunity to incorporate lived memories embodied with detail and nuance enabled Steve to create a complete, three-dimensional characterization of not only who Rodney Milburn was on the track but also offered a glimpse of the man behind the accolades and rewards. 

Jimmy also proved to be an asset for verifying documents and providing accurate captions for images. Jimmy possessed an intimate knowledge of his brother’s accomplishments, travels, daily life, and knew or was acquainted with all of Rodney’s friends, classmates, coaches, and most of his acquaintances. 

The book is based on extensive interviews with old teammates, coaches, and others who had known Milburn. Many people were happy to cooperate, pleased that Milburn, a man Steve contends was “a local legend in the small, segregated town of Opelousas, LA, a hero who was beloved because of his giving personality” would be remembered.

Biographer Steve McGill sums up Rod Milburn as:

 “a local legend in the small, segregated town of Opelousas, LA, a hero who was beloved because of his giving personality.”

Milburn was well-known and respected among hurdlers, but not particularly recognized outside of the sport. Steve attributes this to Milburn’s unassuming, introverted personality. Upon learning how Milburn had died, Steve decided he would take on the task of writing Milburn’s biography to keep his legacy from slipping into obscurity.

Milburn stood out because of his style. Steve explains, “Before Milburn, hurdlers had all run in the same style—three steps and a jump. Milburn sprinted between the hurdles.”

Steve’s Approach to Writing

When it comes to choosing subjects, Steve explains he writes about people “who have inspired” and is drawn to individuals with a personal character he finds inspiring. This ties into Steve’s ultimate goal: “I want to be able to say the books I wrote were about like-minded individuals who inspired.”

Steve’s High School Hurdling Career

Steve began running hurdles in his sophomore year of high school. At the time, he was still primarily focused on basketball. After seeing the video of Nehemiah run his record-breaking race, Steve was inspired to give up basketball and concentrate on hurdling.

In his junior year, Steve began to notice he was feeling fatigued, and, at first, chalked this up to his intensive training regimen. When the condition progressed to the point that even climbing a flight of stairs left him winded, Steve became so alarmed he went to his mother and asked that she make an appointment for him to have a blood test in hopes doctors would be able to ascertain what had been making him so ill. The diagnosis was aplastic anemia.  

Aplastic anemia is a bone marrow failure disease with symptoms similar to leukemia. The prognosis was grim, but Steve asserts, “I wasn’t as afraid of dying as I was of not hurdling again. I just wanted to feel the joy of hurdling again.” Steve credits his experience in the sport with informing his world view: “I still feel like I look at the world through the eyes of a hurdler.”

Steve’s Career as Coach and Educator

Nothing has replaced hurdling for Steve. When he needs to dig deep to accomplish a life goal, Steve uses visualization to imagine himself running hurdles again: The sport is firmly ingrained in his psyche.

“I still feel like I look at the world through the eyes of a hurdler.”

Steve shares his love of hurdling and the lifelong gifts the sport has given him with the high school students he coaches privately. In deciding whether he will coach someone, Steve looks for love and passion for the sport, arguing, “Talent alone is not fun to coach. The fun for me lies in coaching people who love it, are curious about it, and want to get better at it, regardless of their talent level.”

Steve also traces his decision to become a high school English teacher with his desire to pay it forward as an extension of his gratitude for the love and care he received while hospitalized as a teen.

Steve explains he enjoys teaching one-on-one because he values individuality, a trait players are often asked to suppress when they are part of a team. To his mind, Steve is passing on an art form. In his approach to hurdling, Steve has found inspiration in the Zen Buddhist philosophy that physical arts are a pathway to spiritual harmony. 

Renaldo Nehemiah

Steve is cautiously optimistic that he will conclude his work on the Renaldo Nehemiah biography by the end of 2020. Steve contends Nehemiah shares a connection with Rodney “Hot Rod” Milburn: “Nehemiah based everything he did on trying to chase Milburn’s records and style.”

For information about Steve McGill’s coaching services or to subscribe to the monthly magazine, Hurdlers First, visit

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