Not long after Ponte Vedra’s own Rheinhardt Harrison could walk, he was running, and he has not stopped since.
He competed in his first official run when he was 3 years old, as he took part with his family in a “fun run” in Washington, D.C.
“I started by getting pushed in a stroller, but by the end I had hopped out and was running just like everyone else,” Harrison said.
Looking back, starting at such an early age was just the first sign that running was a major part of the Harrison family culture.
According to Harrison, running was how his parents Heidi and Dennis first met each other.
“It really is just a part of who we are,” Harrison said.
He first realized that he had a gift for going fast after running in an 800-meter race in Baltimore as an 8-year-old.
“I beat everyone by a good amount, and I knew it was something I needed to stick with,” Harrison said. “It was a huge wake up call for me, and from then on I knew I wanted to be a pro runner that has a shoe deal, which is not something every kid thinks about at that age.”
Harrison remembers his dad running alongside him at events until he was 12 years old.
“At least every holiday or every Friday for a month, we would go on a 5k as a family,” Harrison said.
He ran both track and field and cross country during his time at Nease High School, and the recent graduate finished as a multi-state champion in both disciplines, including being named both Florida’s “Mr. Track” and “Mr. Cross Country” in 2021.
The honors continued to pour in as he was also named the Gatorade Cross Country Player of the Year as a junior.
He won three consecutive Class 4A cross country state titles, while capturing track and field state titles in the 3200-meter and 1600-meter events as a junior in 2021 and following it up with an 800-meter title as a senior in 2022.
“I have a lot of rare natural speed, which isn’t something a lot of distance runners can say,” Harrison said. “Setting a high bar may have seemed tough at times, but I fought for it. When you cross that line and achieve your goal, there’s no feeling greater than that.”
One of his major goals he set for himself when he started high school was to run the mile in less than four minutes, a feat he was able to recently accomplish, becoming just the 16th high school athlete to do so in the nation’s history and the first from Florida with a time of 3:59.33.
“Competing with the nation’s best is always just really cool,” Harrison said. “The faster you get, the bigger following you get.”
All his high school success has him hungry to see what lies ahead at the college level, where he has signed to run at the University of Oregon, regarded as one of the top track and field programs in the country.
He is excited to see how he fares against the stiffer competition at the next level.
“It’s always going to be a competitive field in college,” Harrison said.
According to Harrison, although he had several offers to choose from, Oregon was a school he had paid close attention to ever since he heard about the story of Oregon alum Steve Prefontaine who competed at the 1972 Olympics but died in a car crash just three years later.
“There’s no doubt that Oregon was on my radar for some time, but my official visit there made it clear that it was just the perfect fit for me,” Harrison said.
Ever since he was a child, Harrison has dreamed of competing at the Olympics himself one day. However, he also understands that time is not now.
“I like to take it year by year,” Harrison said. “I’m going to focus first on winning college championships and then see where it goes from there.”
Running is such a major dynamic within the family that the conversations at the dinner table will sometimes drift towards the topic of running.
“My sister’s usually the one that helps direct the discussion to something else,” Harrison chuckled.
He is fine with it either way because he does find himself thinking about much more than just running, even though it has such an influence in his life.
Bowling is the latest hobby that he has been interested in during the recent months, and an example of something he has been focusing on outside of the running world.
“I keep myself thinking about a lot of other things and activities,” Harrison said. “It keeps me grounded.”
One thing for sure is that Harrison has been running since he was 3 years old, and he does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
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