Learning from adversity can be a pivotal factor in an athlete’s success. That is proving to be true for Isaiah Harris.
The Lewiston native and Penn State University sophomore experienced the high of making the 800-meter final of the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer, and the low of being in contention for a spot in the Rio games in the final, only to slip to sixth place.
But Harris has stayed on track, and he’ll have a chance to become a national champion in the 800 at this weekend’s NCAA Division I indoor championships at Texas A&M University.
“His work ethic, his leadership skills, he’s been a great value to Penn State track and field,” said Nittany Lions coach John Gondak.
Harris is scheduled to compete in the preliminaries on Friday at 8:10 p.m. The Big 10 champ is seeded at 1 minute, 46.65 seconds in a tightly bunched field.
Top seed Patrick Joseph of Virginia Tech has clocked a 1:46.23 this winter. The top three finishers in each eight-man heat and the next two fastest finishers will move on to the finals.
Harris isn’t the only Mainer who will be in the NCAA field.
University of Georgia sophomore Kate Hall of Casco is the No. 6 seed in the women’s long jump.
The Lake Region High School graduate owns a season best of 6.48 meters, or 21 feet, and like Harris will have a good chance to medal.
Hall also competes Friday at 8:10 p.m.
Harris qualified for the NCAA indoor meet as a freshman, but did not advance from the preliminary rounds.
“If there was one race I’m sure he’d like back it’s the preliminaries of the NCAA meet,” Gondak said. “He had some struggles in it. It happens sometimes when you’re a freshman.”
But that only added fuel to Harris’ fire, and he wound up placing fourth in the 800 at the NCAA outdoor championships last spring before going on to the Olympic Trials.
Harris will also anchor Penn State’s 4×400-meter relay team, which is scheduled to compete on Saturday.
Harris and the Nittany Lions set a Big 10 record at the league championship meet in that race, putting together a 3:04.83 clocking.
“Whatever task you put in front of him, he accepts it,” said Gondak.
Another one of those tasks included anchoring PSU’s Distance Medley relay (1,200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,600 meters) team at the conference championships, and his strong leg helped the Nittany Lions place third.
“We had some milers that were injured and he just stepped up and said, ‘Coach, give me the baton. I’ll do it,’” Gondak said.
Harris has come a long way since starring at Lewiston High School, but one thing that has not changed is his leadership abilities.
“He’s just, both in his actions and his words, been a tremendous asset to our program,” said Gondak, who also praised Maine’s ability to produce championship-caliber track and field athletes.
The meet will be live streamed on ESPN3 beginning at 6:25 p.m. on Friday and at 4:55 p.m. on Saturday.