CORK man Liam Harris traveled to the United States on a joint basketball, and athletics scholarship to Kent high school in Connecticut Southern New England.
However, he had to make a life-changing decision when he had to choose between playing basketball or athletics before he went to college, which was athletics. It proved to be the right decision as he is now one of the leading long distance runners in the USA.
Liam started playing sports at the age of five, playing GAA street leagues in Douglas and basketball in Glanmire.
“My first real basketball coach was Paul Manning at Fr Mathew’s. He had a great influence on me, and taught me to never back down from any player or team, regardless of their pedigree,“ Liam said.
“My athletics career started in my first year at Douglas Community School, where Steven Macklin was coaching at the time.
“Before I went to the States I was lucky to be involved with successful teams especially at Fr Mathew’s where we won two All-Ireland U14 titles.
“I also played with the Irish U16 basketball team from 2012-13, and was awarded International Player of the Year.
“I was running for Douglas Com, and my club Togher AC, winning a few individual county titles. In my final year at home, I ran for the Irish cross country team at the World’s Schools Cross Country Championships.”
Liam got to the States with a lot of hard work both on the cross country course and on the basketball court.
“I went to America to do a few basketball camps under the guidance of a great friend Alan Manning, my former coach Paul’s brother. While I was here Alan took me on a tour of his prep school Westminster.
“I was instantly hooked on the idea of coming to America, and I found myself at the Kent high school School in Connecticut.“
One of the hardest decisions taken by Liam was to stop playing basketball.
“I intended to do both cross country and basketball in college to get more of a scholarship.
“However, I then had to give up basketball to concentrate on running to try and get a better college scholarship.
“This was incredibly important in my path going forward, and was a huge risk for me as I never done my Leaving Cert.
“So if I didn’t get the scholarship I wouldn’t have any chance of getting into a good course back home, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford the $70,000 a year for college in America.
“I initially had offers from Sacred Heart, CCSU, Marist, Adelphi, NHU, Hartford. However, Wagner College offered me a full scholarship versus some of the other programs.
“So I decided on Wagner College just outside of NYC. During my freshman year at Wagner my running took off and I started running exceptionally faster than anybody would have expected.
“It was becoming apparent that I was not only a top freshman runner in the Northeast region, but also one of the fastest Irish U23s only behind Barry Keane of Waterford and Andrew Coscoran of Dublin who just broke four minutes in the mile.
“Now I had a big decision to make, do I stay at Wagner, or do I move to the big leagues and follow the footsteps of Irish greats such as the John Tracey, Mark Carroll.
“When I was offered a scholarship from Ray Tracey from Providence College, I was still waiting to hear from Marcus O’Sullivan at Villanova who told me that he had no scholarships for the coming year, but would accommodate me the following year.
“However, I decided on Providence College to be coached by Ray Tracey.
“College was a interesting time, and probably the hardest thing I faced were trying to avoid the 'cool years' as Steven Macklin would call it, and probably injuries.
“While at Providence there were a lot of distractions, especially being Irish at the college, because of my heritage everyone wanted a piece of me.
“So just had to concentrate to balance my social life while maintaining focus on the big goals I set for myself and getting my degree.
“The other thing I struggled with was dealing with injuries which caught me twice at Providence about a year a part.
“I got a stress fracture in my metatarsal joint under my toe while at home training over Christmas after just setting an indoor personal best over the 5,000 meters.
“That just gave me more motivation, and I would get on the stationery bike six days a week for at least two hours to stay fit and in shape.
“The biggest set back was in my junior year near the end of a cross country race when I tore my quad doing hill strides. The worst part was I was doing extra strides without Ray knowing and it backfired.
“This led to my cross country season being cut short and my indoors being an absolute disaster.”
Since Liam started running he had some great days on the track, and also some tough ones like all sports.
“My freshman year I won Rookie of the year for cross country placing third at the conference meet.
“One of my favorite experiences of that cross country season though was racing in NYC at the Northeast Regional Championships where I got to race some of the best runners in the world.
“I toed the line next to Justyn Knight (Olympian), Julian Oakley (World Championship finalist) and Johannes Motschmann (European Champs finalist from Germany) and many others.
“I can distinctly remember at about 5k in and I was running shoulder to shoulder with Justin Knight who went on to win the race.”
Later that year Harris came back to an outdoor conference meet, and was placed second a in the 5,000-metre race.
“I just missed out on winning the Gold at the Big East Conference Champs as I came in second being out kicked by the previous years champion. One of my favorite races and best performances was at the notorious Penn Relays in Pennsylvania. I finished third in the 5km in a field off over a 100 spread out between two heats.
“I ran a new personal best of 14:18 for 5k and bounced back from my injury. My plans before Covid-19 was to return to the States after the summer however, I have changed my mind.
“I have received a lot of offers to go back to the States after graduating from Providence last week.
“Some big colleges has reached out to me (Wake Forest, University of Oklahoma and many more), however, I have been exploding my option of staying at home to go to UCC or CIT to further my education.
“Hopefully while getting this final degree I can push on my running to a level to the point that I can do it full time and put on an Irish singlet again.
“When get qualified use my degree, and I plan to start a Physical Therapy and Sports Massage Therapy business.
“However, that’s a few years away and, for now I’m focused on running and hopefully making some Irish teams."