Mon Jan 21 2019

Competitors to watch for at the K of C Games

Written by Jim Germain

We’re in the b-r-rr and blah of winter. Time for hurdler Michelle Harrison (Young) to crack open a new season. Harrison, 26, gives the 2019 K of C Games gloss. She is a Saskatoon athlete competing in an international field. She’ll notice the time she runs and where she finishes. What is more important is what the race tells her. She’ll know where she’s at. What she does indoors in January is a hint at what might happen outdoors in July. “I often get caught up focusing on my time after every race,” Harrison said. “I have learned that it is more important to create small goals throughout the season. “Being patient and working hard to achieve these small goals will pay off. Success will come in the long run when it counts.”

Michelle Harrison (Young) jumping hurdles at the Knights of Columbus games.
Michelle Harrison (Young)

Last summer was a scorcher. She ran 13.28 seconds in the 100-metre hurdles, her best time ever and the third-fastest in 2018 by a Canadian. She has been hitting 13-and-change since 2013. The faster she goes the more precise she is. She has to be. Figuring out hurdles is a job for an X-Acto knife in spikes. If she brushes a hurdle with her clearing leg or her heel recovery is too high, she loses time. Every bit counts. In a world of 13-second sprints, fractions are huge. In the land of hurdles, Harrison rules.

As a Grade 12 student at Evan Hardy Collegiate she won 6 gold medals at the High School Provincial meet, setting 2 records. With the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, she won a Canada West conference title and the U SPORTS national title in the 60m hurdles. She also holds the record as the fastest Huskie in the 60m and 60m hurdles all time. She’s also been to the World University Games.

“Two years ago I was hurt and unable to compete,” she said. “Therefore, it’s hard to say what I have improved on. I am just happy to be competing healthy again. “I am working on coming off of the hurdle faster and spending less time in the air over the hurdle.” She is a package deal. She is attitude and action.

“The K of C games is a meet I look forward to competing in every year,” Harrison said. “I remember competing in the Games in elementary school. I thought it was so cool watching the invitational athletes. I would have never dreamed that one day I would be competing in the invitational event.

”Another competitor, Kayden Johnson, age 22, is a sprinter and hurdler. When he runs in the K of C Games this month in the Field House, the stands will be full, the track busy and the noise big. That’s Games tradition, has been since Saskatoon started the annual indoor athletics meet 54 winters ago. Johnson calls it background noise. With his mind on the race, the Field House is as loud as a nun’s sneeze.

Kayden Johnson jumping hurdles at the Knights of Columbus games.
Kayden Johnson

Making it quick takes time. In the hour before the race he visualizes and stretches. He takes another hour after the race to cool down. If it’s not race day, he is at the track training. He is in the weight room. He eats smart. He deep sleeps. Hurry up is his goal. Getting fast takes patience. Slow down, he tells himself. A 10-second sprint is years in the making.

Johnson first came to the K of C Games from Kindersley almost a decade ago, not to run, to watch. His father, Winchester, competed in the K of C Games in the 1980s and went on to break the Saskatchewan record in decathlon, finishing third in the run, jump and throw event at the 1991 Canadian track and field championships in Montreal. His mother, Angy, played soccer and basketball for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. Angy and Winchester have schooled Kayden and his two brothers in sport.

“They taught me the base,” he said. “I grow from that and try to surpass them. “If I’m hot-headed about something I’ll ask them questions. They watch practice. They watch video. They see things I don’t.”

Sports are in his blood and bio. Kayden played bantam hockey for the Kindersley Klippers. He was co-captain on his high school basketball team at Lutheran Collegiate Bible Institute in Outlook. Last May he was among a group of athletes in Winnipeg for one of the regional camps in the national RBC Training Ground program to identify Olympic prospects in all kinds of sports. Kayden, who is 6-foot-3 and 200-plus pounds, posted the best test results at the camp. In a show of power, speed and endurance, he had scouts from Bobsleigh Skeleton Canada and Rugby Canada doing somersaults.

For now his commitment is to track and football. Being a fourth-year theatre student at York University in Toronto, school and sports is a heavy load. He plays running back for the York Lions, finishing 10th in the conference in yards rushing last season and scoring four touchdowns. Although he holds the Saskatchewan record in decathlon for the under-20 age class, set in 2015 when he finished fifth at the Panamerican Junior Athletics championships, he decided to target his best track events. He picked sprints and hurdles, a casserole of raw speed and refined technique.

The meat of his 2018-19 indoor season at York is the Ontario university conference championships in late February and the U SPORTS national championships in early March. He won the Canadian university 60-metre hurdles title last year.

Johnson is tall. He is wide. His arms are tattooed from shoulder to elbow, side to side. His dreadlocks are so long they finish a race a full second after he does.“Not your typical sprinter build,” he said. He doesn’t have to run up and over the hurdles. He can blast through them. “I’ve done that,” he said. “I lived to tell the story. They didn’t.” Someone forgot to tell the hurdles to wear Kevlar.