Fast TRACK to Harvard
5-time state track champ has 4.42 GPA
Jarvis Harris poses with the five state championship medals he won in two years at Jesuit High School. Though he owns several school athletic records, Harris also has an impressive academic resume.
Less than 10 years later, Harris, who lives in Ama, is the owner of five state track championships and has his name on numerous school records at Jesuit High School. But as impressive as those athletic achievements are, Harris will soon embark on the most important journey of his career - that of a student-athlete at Harvard.
And he’s not worried about balancing both academics and athletics at one of the toughest colleges in the world.
Because while Harris excels on the track, he has a 4.42 GPA, graduated Summa Cum Laude in the accelerated program and is a National Achievement Merit Scholar as well as a member of the National Honor Society.
“I’m confident that I will be able to do both well because my parents raised me to be about my business and showed me how to prioritize,” Harris said. “I have God-given abilities to do what I’ve been called to do.”
Race with P.E. teacher set stage for track career
Though it may be hard to imagine now, a simple race is what first got Harris involved in track. While at Boutte Christian Academy, Harris had an ongoing competition with his physical education teacher, David Raymond.
“I would always challenge him to a race and he always said how fast I was,” Harris said. “Eventually I beat him, even though I think he let me win one of those times, and he always wanted me to run track.”
When he was 9, Harris was encouraged by neighbor Norman Singleton Jr. to be a part of the St. Charles Striders, a local track team. From that point on, he was trained to take part in all track events under the tutelage of coaches Nat Henry and Ulysses Frontha. Harris liked the 100 meter, 200 meter and 400 meter dashes, but his favorite was the long jump.
In his first year of competition, he found himself in the Southern AAU Junior Olympics Regional Track Meet. Harris won the gold medal in the long jump by leaping 12 feet, 10 ¾ inches, breaking the previous regional record of 12 feet, 4 inches. He also placed third in the 200 meter dash and fourth in the 100 meter dash.
While Harris found astounding success in those races, the events that would allow him so much success in high school were forbidden to him at that age.
In AAU, young athletes aren’t able to participate in either hurdles or the triple jump until they’re 13. But four years after winning his first gold medal, Harris qualified in both events and became known as one of the top triple jumpers and hurdlers in the state.
That’s when his love affair with track began.
“I just love to run,” he said. “I also like the fact that it’s more of a solo sport and you have to rely on yourself to do what you need to do. In track, you have to be good in all areas…you have to be the fastest and jump the farthest.
“You can’t make up for that in another way.”
During his junior year at Jesuit, Harris would accomplish something that would change the direction of his life. He won his first state championship in the 110 meter hurdles.
“That was the moment of enlightenment,” Harris said. “I realized that I was actually good at this.”
But though that moment showed Harris that he had what it took to compete at the collegiate level, it was something he expected.
“I was really happy with myself, but it wasn’t a surprise to me because I had been training up to that point to win,” he said. “It was a sense of accomplishment because I worked hard for it.”
And he set his goals even higher for his senior year.
“I said, “I won this event, let’s see what I can win next,’” Harris said. “I wanted to see how many more I could win and it was a challenge that spurred me on to these other events.”
Harris’ father, Roy, said the state title automatically made his son a top contender his senior year.
“When he won that first state championship, that’s when people started getting interested in him,” he said. “He had a name now. He was the one that you had to beat.”
Balancing school, athletics
Because of his academic record, Harris was already drawing interest from colleges across the country. He finished his senior year with a 4.42 GPA and was named a National Achievement Merit Scholar, received the Ubaldo Trelles Memorial Award for excellence in Spanish and was named a member of both the National Spanish Honor Society and the National Honor Society.
Those achievements led to schools such as Harvard, Cornell, Baylor, Georgia Tech and Tulane offering scholarships. In fact, Tulane offered Harris the school’s Distinguished Scholar’s Award.
Not many people are able to make excellent grades while succeeding in athletics, but Harris said it came down to two things.
“It’s all about time management and prayer,” he said.
Harris said most days he dealt with school work for four hours. That’s in addition to morning and afternoon track practice.
“I would have morning workouts for track, have school then have track practice from 3:30 p.m. until 6 p.m.,” he said. “I got home at around 7 p.m., watched a little bit of TV until around 8 p.m. and would study, write papers and do homework until midnight or 2 a.m. in the morning.”
Harris would wake up the next day at 5 a.m. and do it all again.
“It is crazy, but I adapted to it because I knew I had to do it to be the best that I can be,” he said.
School records are meant to be broken
While keeping up with a busy workload, Harris was excelling on the track. During his senior year, he racked up 16 first place finishes during the regular season. But in his first outdoor state competition, Harris came in second in the 110 meter hurdles - an event he had won as a junior.
“That was the one thing I was supposed to win and I came in second and lost by .04 seconds,” Harris said. “Because I thought I was going to win that one it really threw me off. I had to recollect myself and say, “That’s done, move on and do your best in your next events.”
Harris responded in the state meet by winning gold in both the triple jump and the 300 meter hurdles. Combined with his earlier indoor titles in the 55 meter hurdles and the indoor triple jump, Harris finished his senior season with four individual state championships.
All of his wins set school records at Jesuit, which has participated in athletics since 1847.
“I hope the school records stay for a while, but I always want people to get better in the sport,” Harris said.
Heading to Harvard
Harris will begin school at Harvard in August. He plans on running the 110 meter hurdles, the 60 meter hurdles and the triple jump in college. In academics, he hopes to excel in science so that he can become a biomedical engineer.
“I wanted to be a doctor at first, but realized that it would be a lot of school,” Harris said with a chuckle. “Biomedical engineer will combine technology and medicine, two things that I love.”
Though it seems like a perfect match because of Harris’ self-professed infatuation with how the body works, he will decide on his career after taking all of his classes.
Now, Harris is preparing to leave behind his family, including father, Roy, mother, Nelida, sister, Nicole and brother, Justin, as he ventures to school.
“I really appreciate all that my parents have done for me because they have supported both my academics and track,” Harris said. “I also want to thank all my relatives and the Mt. Zion Baptist Church family for cheering me on and helping in my journey.”
One thing Harris said he’s not prepared for is the cold of Massachusetts.
“In August, when you get there the Harvard campus looks majestic,” he said. “When you hit November, December, it’s cold. It still looks pretty, but I’ll just stay inside.
“I like it hot, so I think the weather will literally be the biggest adjustment I will have to make.”
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