WWU Vikings

Olympic dream nearing reality for ex-WWU decathlete

Alex Harrison’s vision extended beyond the walls of a shed-like building, his hands wrapped around the red handles of a 300-pound bobsled mounted to rails.

In one fluid motion, the 6-foot-1, former Western Washington University decathlete departed down the track at the U.S.A. Bobsled training facility in Lake Placid, N.Y., his grandest dreams attached to every powerful step he took.

That wasn’t the beginning of his Olympic-hopeful journey. A text owns that distinction, one from his longtime friend, Michelle Howe.

“I think I found your new sport,” Howe’s text to Harrison read. “It’s designed for you.”

His interest was sparked, albeit he had no actual interaction with bobsledding in his past. As a former decathlete, his physical repertoire was anything if not deep, boding well for any task he took part in.

The combine, which served as the first step in the process of making the U.S.A. Olympic bobsledding team on Aug. 2 in Greensville, S.C., was the first hurdle.

Harrison electrified all three phases of the showcase — the 60-meter dash, standing broad jump and underhand shot toss — posting a score of 530 out of 600, which at the time stood as the highest score amongst all the combines completed in the country.

Amongst a field of athletes hailing from some of the most talent-rich Division-I universities in the country, a dream that once seemed distant and crazy was becoming reality.

Several weeks passed before Harrison’s phone rang. On the other end was the voice of Michael Dionne, coach and director for bobsled development for Team U.S.A.

Harrison was moving on.

A roaring impression

Adrenaline coursed through Harrison’s veins before he approached his final run.

As an outlet, the former Viking allowed his energy to exit his body, even if it was to the detriment of his innocent face.

“Before the final push, I hit myself in the face as hard as I could five or six times,” he said in a phone interview. “It was pretty animalistic.”

A “war cry” extended out of the shed. He had one last chance to best his training partner, Casey Wickline, a powerfully-built firefighter from Greenville.

Harrison opted to re-run on the right side, where he posted his fastest time. He thought he could do better — he believed his greatest opportunity to best Wickline began there after the two had already complete runs from the back of the sled, left and right sides.

The nearly-300 pound sled erupted down the rail in 4.39 seconds.

“The inertia of the sled, you need to be a strong person,” Harrison said. “It gets moving pretty fast on the push track. ... It takes a large force. It’s more of a speed event.”

The total of his three best times — 4.39, 4.51 and 4.55 — was 13.45 seconds, .04 seconds faster than Wickline’s 13.49.

Again, Harrison had conquered a task that put him one step closer to making Team U.S.A. bobsledding, but he still had his doubts. All he had accomplished thus far was besting 19 newcomers.

Where dreams became reality

Harrison needed to know what his odds were.

The only person possessing that information was the head coach himself, Brian Shimer.

The 26-year-old Ph.D student at East Tennessee State University offered a simple question to Shimer: “What are my chances of being an alternate on the world cup team?”

The response was one Harrison expected.

“I looked at Brian and he said there’s no chance,” Harrison remembered. “He said something terrible would have to happen for me to be an alternate.”

Shimer had yet to express what he was actually trying to say.

In a subtle play on words, Shimer expected far more from Harrison than just being an alternate. He believed Harrison possessed the ability to be on the No. 1, 2 or 3 teams, far from alternate status.

“I started almost crying,” Harrison said. “I got choked up and I just tried to calm my excitement. If I got too excited, I was going to look like a fool in front of him. I know my eyes were watering.”

As if it needed to be said, Harrison was selected to compete against the veterans in the Bobsled Push Championships running Oct. 13-19.

Unquestioned dedication

The responsibility Harrison embraces is not just for his country, but for those who failed to make it as far as he has in the process.

He lives that mantra every day, rising early in the morning and dedicating his entire life to training for his Olympic dream, the same dream he’s seen dashed for so many.

Uprooting his life to move to Lake Placid is one of the many sacrifices he said he’s willing to make.

“If I am serious about pursuing an Olympic dream, I have to be pursuing it 100 percent to represent my country,” he said. “This is a dream I’ve devoted my entire professional career to.... If I have my way, I will live at the training center.”

From a text to standing on the door of an Olympic future.