Nearly 20 years ago, Michelle Harrison was one of the hundreds of nervous, screaming kids racing in elementary relays at Saskatoon’s historic Knights of Columbus Indoor Games.
This weekend, hundreds of other young runners and fans will be watching Harrison as she headlines an international women’s field at that same track meet.
The 30-year-old hurdles specialist said the K of C Games hold a special place in her heart.
“It’s been a part of my life since I started in the sport. I started out running the relays, and now I’m running in the invitational section,” Harrison said following a recent session with coach Jason Reindl.
“I’m excited to hopefully run some fast times.”
Harrison experienced a massive breakthrough last year, finishing in the top 15 at last year’s World Athletics Championships in Oregon. She went on to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Games and other events around the world. And unlike her competitors who train in Florida, California or other warmer locations, she did it all from her home base in Saskatoon.
Reindl said snow-free locations have their advantages, and he and Harrison will travel elsewhere for training camps, but they want to show that with a good team around you — training partners, medical staff, sponsors and others — it’s possible to become one of the world’s best.
“Her being from Saskatoon, myself from Saskatoon, both of us Evan Hardy [Collegiate] graduates. You know, there’s a little bit of a hometown pride kind of thing. And luckily we’ve got the supports,” Reindl said.
Harrison left for several years to train in other cities, but always ended up injured or achieving less than her potential. In 2017, she returned to Saskatoon unsure if she’d continue in the sport. Reindl convinced her to give it another try, starting slowly and without the pressure of racing or even hitting specific speeds in the workouts.
Harrison gradually got healthier and faster, winning multiple national championships and climbing the world rankings.
“Resilience and perseverance would describe her,” Reindl said. “She’s very committed, and the biggest thing is being healthy. It’s what allows an athlete to be able to train, which allows them to be able to compete. So we always talk about making decisions that suggest long term health. That kind of philosophy is proving quite successful.”
Much of their training takes place on the 200-metre rubberized track at the Saskatoon field House, but they also take advantage of other facilities.
Last week, Reindl guided Harrison through a series of sprints and drills on a 100-metre stretch of indoor turf at the Ignite Athletics training facility.
Reindl squatted with a tape measure and placed a small tea towel just over two metres in front of a hurdle. He nodded and called back to her, “Whenever you’re ready.”
Harrison took several seconds to get to top speed, then planted her foot precisely on the towel. She flew over the hurdle and snapped her front leg back down to the ground to continue sprinting.
They repeated the drill a few more times, with several minutes of rest between each. Precision and focus are key in races often decided by hundredths of a second.
They’re confident that focus and the continued support of their community will lead Harrison to a spot in the next Olympics.
“Athletes, you know, always work hard and do their best, but when they climb the results and rankings and get to that top echelon of the sport, it’s a a special thing as a coach,” said Reindl, also the head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies track and field team.
Harrison is set to run in the K of C Games invitational women’s hurdles Friday at 5 p.m. CST and the 60-metre sprint Saturday at 2 p.m. CST.
“It means a lot because it means being able to celebrate and appreciate all the people who are there supporting me, rather than just being in a hotel room by myself halfway across the world,” Harrison said.
“It’s going to be pretty special.”