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Saskatchewan Stories

Hurdling into Birmingham: Harrison set to race at Commonwealth Games

August 4, 2022

Michelle Harrison nearly quit her career in athletics. 

Following high school, the Saskatoon product descended south of the border to Rice University in Houston, Texas on a full ride scholarship, where she competed with the Owls track and field team. But after dealing with an illness and ongoing stress fractures, she stepped away from the team and came home to Saskatoon.

Harrison would eventually head to Toronto to train with some of the country’s top hurdlers in the Athletics Canada hub, but Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) syndrome led to injuries and ultimately, led to doubts about what was next for the hurdler. 

“That was probably the toughest time in my career and I questioned whether I wanted to keep going. I even told my coach at the time I was going to quit and move back home — which I did,” said Harrison. 

However, a return home to the Prairies brought her to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies track and field team and ultimately, gave her a fresh start.  

Fast forward nearly five years later, Harrison is the two-time defending Canadian champion in women’s 100-metre hurdles and is set to appear in her first Commonwealth Games. She enters the Games fresh off a personal- best time of 12.74 in the semifinal at the World Athletics Championship in Eugene, Oregon. The time helped her place 14th in the world. 

Returning home reunited Harrison with Jason Reindl, the head coach of the Huskies. Reindl recruited her to join the program when he took the job in 2017 and from there, their partnership formed. After years of Harrison battling injuries, Reindl took the process slow as they focused on walking, jogging, rehabbing and recovering. Eventually, when the 2018-19 season rolled around, she was back competing. 

“I just didn’t feel like I was quite finished with the sport and I thought I still had some potential, so I decided to train with him. But I didn’t really know at the time where I was headed — I was just doing it for fun,” said Harrison.

That so-called ‘fun’ led Harrison to a dominant two-year tenure with the Huskies. She claimed back-to-back Canada West and U SPORTS gold medals in the women’s 60-m hurdles, where she set a new national record with a time of 8.13 seconds in 2020 and was ultimately named the U SPORTS Female Track Athlete of the Year.

“I really like working with Jason. We really just work well. We understand each other,” said Harrison. 

As one of only two members of Canada’s track and field team at the Commonwealth Games with ties to the Saskatchewan, along with pole vaulter Anicka Newell, Harrison’s connection to the province is something not lost on her. 

“It is pretty cool. I remember looking up to people Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Taryn Suttie, who all did pretty big things, so it’s kind of cool to be in their shoes now,” said Harrison. 

Following in the footsteps of Theisen-Eaton and Suttie, she was one of 59 able-bodied athletes selected to the Athletics Canada squad for the World Championships, alongside the likes of Andre De Grasse and Damian Warner. Harrison says she’s never had a year that was injury free since Grade 9 and finally, it’s paying dividends as she represents her province and country on one of the biggest stages in athletics.  

“I’m really happy with everything I’ve accomplished and came back from. It’s made everything worthwhile in the end,” said Harrison.

“She is the definition of resilient. She’s extremely talented physically, but she is a very determined young woman. That in itself is probably the biggest requirement to preserve over nearly 20 years in the sport,” said Reindl.

And after 20 years in the sport, the next two years figure to be the biggest for Harrison. Upon completion of the Commonwealth Games, she will be competing at the North America Central America Caribbean Games in Bahamas in late August, with stops in China and Hungary planned for 2023 for the World Indoor and Outdoor Athletics Championships.

And after missing out on qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games, Harrison’s eyes are locked in on Paris as she chases after her Olympic debut in 2024.

“If this was an Olympic year, I would have made it. That gives me a lot of confidence going into the next two years and there’s still room to build, as well,” said Harrison.

“Anytime an athlete reaches this level of world ranking and position, it definitely makes you take a minute to pause and reflect. You realize, hey, this is pretty special and pretty remarkable,” said Reindl. 

But before Paris comes Birmingham. Harrison is set to compete at the Commonwealth Games in the opening round of the women’s 100-m hurdles Friday morning at 3:26 a.m. CST., with the finals set for Sunday morning.