Rookie makes her mark at B.C. 55+ Games

She was told she'd never run again after suffering a major knee injury in 2016.

Joan Harris came back from the BC 55+ Games recently with eight medals after entering eight events.

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Four of them were for sprint races.

Other events she medaled in included javelin, shot put, hammer throw and long jump.

Harris, who has boxed for the last 10 years, decided in January to start training for the B.C. 55+ Games.

The idea started to grow legs as she took up the Northern Sport Centre 600 lap challenge for the last two months of 2017.

"After that I started thinking I could run on this track and the old gears got turning in my head," Harris said. She didn't know what to do with herself during the winter and decided to start training for the games.

"Then it wasn't until we could get out in the field that I started doing anything else," Harris said, talking about the field events.

Even though Harris took silver in the 50 and 400 metres and bronze in the 100 and 200 metres, she quickly came to the conclusion that she really wasn't prepared as she thought she was for the competition.

"I always thought I was fast but, of course, once I was there I discovered there was a little bit higher level of sprinting than I was prepared for," Harris laughed.

The camaraderie of the athletes during the games saw Harris taking in all the tips offered up by the more experienced athletes.

"One of the other ladies told me that I had great speed, I just didn't have the endurance to carry that speed through the whole race," Harris said. "She told me that I needed to get a training program that was going to make me stronger for that."

Harris said when she thought about it she knew it was true because during the 50 metre dash she was able to keep the gap smaller between her and the first place sprinter. She lost a little bit more ground as the distance of each race increased.

The entire experience was a bit overwhelming and one of the highlights along with earning a medal in every event was the opening ceremonies, which included the parade of athletes entering the stadium.

"I really enjoyed being with everybody," Harris said about the event held in Cranbrook. "A lot of what I take away from it is watching the older athletes. It was just ridiculous. I can't believe how fit some of those people were."

Harris said she was aware there were rivalries among the athletes because they'd been competing against each other for so long.

"But everybody seems to appreciate what everybody else does," Harris said. "I think when people imagine doing that sort of thing they think it's going to be high pressure and not a nice experience and others might be afraid to go out and do it because 'what if I'm no good'. But if they went out once and saw what it's actually like then they would realize that sure, winning medals is great but sometimes it's just about going out and trying your hardest and doing you're best."

The biggest challenge for Harris was to actually go through with running the 400 metre.

"I didn't want to do it," Harris said. "It was cold, it was wet. I had a cramp in my leg. Nothing felt right and I thought 'I don't even know how to run this. I don't know what I'm doing'."

In the back of her mind she kept thinking she could pull out of the competition.

"Who would care, right?" Harris asked. "But no. I had to do it to say I did it. I would never lie to anybody - it was the longest minute and 26 seconds of my entire life. But I did it and to me that's just a huge, huge thing."

Harris said it was probably the first and last time she will ever run that sprint.

A split second after crossing the finish line Harris hit the ground hard from sheer exhaustion as a result of the effort she gave during the race. She bruised her legs and her elbow and spent a few very long seconds lying flat on her back trying to find the strength to get up.

During her last throw of the hammer, she made such an effort that she ended up falling out of the circle, landing on her side as she hit the metal ring, earning yet another bruise. It takes a special kind of athlete to make that kind of Herculean effort where everything is put on the line.

"During those moments I'm like 'I'm here, I have to do this, I just want to do this the best I can and not say I didn't try my hardest," Harris said. "It's about digging down deep and showing people that I got one more in me."

Looking into the future for the games, Harris has every intention of going back next year.

"I plan at looking at other masters' track meets," Harris said. "I plan on doing a couple of those at least so I get better and again, I have to work on the running."

Harris will look at readjusting her list of events and will participate in the Throws Pentathlon and said after watching some of the hurdle events she is considering participating in one of those, while eliminating one of the other sprints. She'll figure it out as she resumes her training over the winter months.

Prior to the games, participants were invited to practice with Coach Tom Masich three times a week during the summer.

"If I didn't have Tom Masich training me, I don't know what I would've done," Harris said. "I swear every practice I went to with him he tweaked something or told me something that just made things better."

Editor's Note: Reporter Christine Hinzmann returned from the recent B.C. 55+ Games with four medals of her own in the throwing events, competing against Harris in three of those events.

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