Friday, October 9, 2020

Harrison aims to hit new heights, leave no doubts with track

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Michelle Harrison is at home at the Indoor Training Centre.
Michelle Harrison could have left track and field on a high, but she didn’t want to have any doubts of what might have been.

Last season, Harrison had a dream campaign finishing up her fifth and final year of U Sports eligibility with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s track and field team.

At that Canada West Championships last February in Saskatoon, Harrison won gold in 60-metre hurdles, 60-metre dash and 4 X 200-metre relay. She ran her specialty in the 60-metre hurdles in a conference record time of 8.21 seconds.

Harrison captures conference honours as Female Track Athlete of the Year and the award for Female Outstanding Performance of the Meet.

At the U Sports championships held last March in Edmonton, Harrison won gold in the 60-metre hurdles in a record time for the meet in 8.15 seconds. She won two silver medals with the Huskies 4 X 200-metre and 4 X 400-metre relay teams.

The graduate of Saskatoon’s Evan Hardy Collegiate was named the U Sports Female Track Athlete of the Year and was the Female Athlete of the Meet at the U Sports championships.

On April 1, the Huskies announced Harrison as recipient of the Mary Ethel Cartwright Trophy as the athletic program’s overall female athlete of the year.

After completing her U Sports career, Harrison didn’t want to give up on track and field. She believes she has more potential to realize and didn’t want to wonder if she could have done more in the sport.

“It is hard, because the last indoor season was really good,” said Harrison. “I know right now I am a way better athlete than that.”

Age 27, Harrison is a mature athlete too, and she has had a lengthy and decorated career in track and field filled with ups and downs.

Way back in 2009, Harrison was a member of Team Canada at the World Youth Championships competing in the 400-metre hurdles.

Michelle Harrison in action. (Photo courtesy Louis Christ)
At the 2010 Saskatchewan High School Athletic Association track and field championships, Harrison won gold in the 100-metre, 200-metre, 400-metre and 80-metre hurdles races. She also captured gold medals as a member of Evan Hardy’s 4 X 100-metre and 4 X 400-metre relay teams.

After graduating high school, Harrison competed for three different universities and a high performance centre from 2010 to 2017. They included the Rice University Owls in Houston, Texas, in the NCAA ranks, the Huskies and the York University Lions along with the high-performance track and field hub in Toronto, Ont. She experienced a mix of highs and lows as she often battled injuries along the way.

One of the highs included winning gold in the 100-metre hurdles at the Canada Summer Games in 2013 in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The 100-metre hurdles is Harrison’s specialty on the international track circuit.

Other highs during that time included winning gold in the 60-metre hurdles at the Canada West and U Sports championships in 2014.

The toughest of the lows included training in the high-performance hub in Toronto from 2015-17, where Harrison said coaches were getting fired and athletes were leaving. On top of the turmoil there, Harrison was injured most of that time.

During that time, Harrison had a cup of coffee stay with the Lions program.

She returned home to Saskatoon, got married to her long time boyfriend, Graeme Harrison, and was fairly disillusioned with the sport of track and field. With all of that going on, Michelle came into contact with Jason Reindl, who took over as the head coach of the Huskies.

Reindl, who is a former Huskies men’s track team athlete, had happened to just return home to Saskatoon too after being the head coach of the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds cross-country running and track and field teams in Fredericton.

Michelle Harrison starred with the Huskies. (Photo Courtesy
Harrison rejoined the Huskies, and it was like the perfect storm happened to rejuvenate her track and field career.

“I think just my coach Jason (Reindl) was a big part of it,” said Harrison. “When I was back in Toronto, I had lost lots of interest in the sport.

“I was about to quit. I just really liked working with him (Reindl). I just like the atmosphere of the team too.

“It was a lot more positive than what I have been used to. My performance improving as well helped too. I think it was just like a combination of a bunch of different things.”

After spending a season to train and get back up to speed, Harrison won gold in the 60-metre hurdles at the Canada West and U Sports championships in 2019. She picked up silver medals at the U Sports championships with the Huskies 4 X 200-metre and 4 X 400-metre relay teams.

In June of 2019, Harrison ran the 100-metre hurdles in a personal best time of 13.13 seconds taking top spot at the Speed River Track and Field Festival in Guelph, Ont. She placed third in the 100-metre hurdles at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in July of 2019.

That set the stage for her final campaign with the Huskies. Now, she has renewed aspirations to qualify for the Olympics.

Following her final season with the Huskies, Harrison was slated to go to meets in Asia and California, but the worldwide grip of the COVID-19 pandemic nixed all of that.

In June, she began working out at the Indoor Training Centre here at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. Harrison has done strength sessions at Ignite Athletes and run on the field turf with Reindl on hand to offer his coaching expertise.

Michelle Harrison is ready for new track and field challenges.
“Being able to lift here and get to full strength is huge,” said Harrison. “My strength is probably the best it ever has been, so I have been able to work on that a lot, which is good.

“Even just being able to run here, it is nice being able to train on a flat surface and not having to worry about stepping in a hole or whatever in the park. It has been a lot more consistent training.”

Harrison can’t wait to get back into live competition and is currently slated to attend the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, in March of 2021.

“I’m hoping there is like a season,” said Harrison. “I’ve qualified for the world indoor championships, which are in China in March, so I am hoping that is a go.

“After that, it will be just chasing down the Olympic standard again in the summer.”