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SALT LAKE CITY -- After logging 4,000 hours in the gym in the last three years, Court McGee's dream is now a reality. In June, the Layton native won the 11th season of the "The Ultimate Fighter," a mixed martial arts reality series on Spike TV.
But before winning that fight on live television, Court had to win the fight of his life -- his personal battle with drug addiction. It was a fight he almost lost.
Court has always been a fighter. He was always interested in martial arts and became a star wrestler at Layton High School. It was after high school when wrestling was gone that Court's life entered a downward spiral.
"I started hanging out with the wrong people -- drinking, partying." Court says. "It went from that to worse, to drinking every night."
He always pushes the limit and for him it was death. We always wondered when he would hit rock bottom and for him it was death.
Court suffered an injury to his clavicle and elbow that required surgery and that's when he was introduced to painkillers.
"I started mixing that with the alcohol and then it got worse," Court remembers. "It went from that to cocaine and heroin, and then overdose."
In a short period of time, Court went from star wrestler and "A" student to drug addict. He lost his job and wasn't allowed at his parents' house. He was stealing to fuel his addiction.
"I was a horrible person," Court says. "I was unemployable. I didn't have any friends. I was a detriment to society. I had nothing."
His mother Noel remembers dealing with the pain of watching her son fall victim to drug addiction. "It was devastating to see your son going down a path of total destruction," she remembers.
His lowest point occurred in the bathroom of his cousin's house trailer. It's where a heroin overdose almost took his life.
"Court overdosed at his cousin's house," says Noel, who happens to be a registered nurse. "She was the one that opened up the door and saw him and he was dead. He was clinically dead."
Fortunately for Court, paramedics were less than a couple hundred yards away at a nearby trailer, responding to an emergency that turned out to be a false alarm. They were able to revive him.
Even when I was using and drinking I still knew somewhere that I was meant to do something and maybe that's why God didn't let me die, I don't know. Maybe He's got a plan for me. Maybe His plan was for me to follow my dreams.
"He always pushes the limit and for him it was death," Noel says. "We always wondered when he would hit rock bottom and for him it was death."
After the overdose, Court had to learn how to walk, talk and function all over again. He entered a treatment facility in Midvale where he stayed for 32 days.
"I always knew Court was going to make it," his mother says. "I just didn't know how."
He suffered a couple of relapses. The one that took place in Las Vegas would be his last.
"I took one drink in Vegas and I ended up in Iowa four days later with no pants on and a long sleeve shirt, looking for meth," he says.
That drink in Las Vegas would be his last.
"I decided after that, you know, 'Well, it looks like I'm not going to be drinking anymore," he remembers. "About a week and a half later on April 16, 2006, that was my last drop. That was it."
It was then that Court began the slow road to recovery. He returned to Layton High School and became an assistant wrestling coach. It turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made.
"I got the spark back in me. I want to compete," he says.
He did just that. He got back in the gym and began training. He entered any competition he could -- wrestling, boxing, ju jitsu. For the first time since 2nd grade he was staying out of trouble.
Then he had a chance to fight in a mixed martial arts event in Grand Junction, Colo., and after that he was hooked.
"When they raised my hand, man, it was like, whew! That was it," he says.
Things started to turn around for Court. He repaired his relationship with his family and he reunited with his high school sweetheart, Chelsea.
"All the things that I couldn't live with are gone and all the things that I loved about him are there and magnified," she says.
The couple was married and has a son named Isaac, with another son expected soon.
Court quit his full-time job as a plumber and began training and fighting in local events in Utah and surrounding states. He found instant success compiling a 10-1 record. One of his victories came against DaMarques Johnson who now fights in the UFC. His only loss was to UFC veteran Jeremy Horn.
After several auditions he finally earned a spot on the Spike TV reality series "The Ultimate Fighter." It was the opportunity he worked so hard for -- a chance to earn a six-figure contract with the UFC. It was a chance at a better life for his wife and son.
"I knew what I was there for," he says. "I came in there, one, to be in the place where I was of maximum usefulness to others, that was, to carry the message. And, two, was to win."
McGee also had to overcome adversity on the show. After a controversial decision looked to have ended his dream, an injury to another fighter gave him a second chance.
He made the most of it. He fought his way to the semifinals where he defeated Brad Tavares to earn a spot in the show's live finale in Las Vegas. It was there that he defeated Kris McCray in the main event.
All that work in the gym and his victory over addiction paid off in that moment, a moment that left him overcome with emotion.
"I want to dedicate this fight to anyone who is struggling today," he said after the win. "I love you all! To my family, my dad, my mom, and Chelsea and Isaac, I love you guys!"
It was then that Court's road to redemption was complete. Now he hopes his story can inspire others that may be going through a similar battle with alcohol and drugs.
"The saying that I have is I always worked hard and I never gave up on my dreams and that's exactly what I did, man. Even when I was using and drinking I still knew somewhere that I was meant to do something and maybe that's why God didn't let me die, I don't know," Court says. "Maybe He's got a plan for me. Maybe His plan was for me to follow my dreams."