Edmonds native earning instant success with USA bobsled team

Alex Harrison (right) and his girlfriend Michelle Howe are both members of the USA bobsled team. Harrison will compete at the FIBT World Cup Bobsled and Skeleton tour in Lake Placid, New York, on Dec. 12 and 13.
Alex Harrison (right) and his girlfriend Michelle Howe are both members of the USA bobsled team. Harrison will compete at the FIBT World Cup Bobsled and Skeleton tour in Lake Placid, New York, on Dec. 12 and 13.

It’s not often that an athlete moves from first timer to a sports’ highest level in just a few short months of training.

But Edmonds native Alex Harrison has done just that and will represent the United States bobsled team at the FIBT World Cup Bobsled and Skeleton Tour in Lake Placid, N.Y. on Dec. 12 and 13.

On Nov. 21 and 22, he competed at the International Cup in Lillehammer, Norway.

“It was something I didn’t really expect to do when I tried out,” Harrison said.  “It’s still pretty surreal. It’s very wild to me that two months ago I had never pushed a bobsled and now I’m sitting on team U.S.”

Harrison, a Ph.D. student at East Tennessee State, was introduced to the sport by his girlfriend, Michelle Howe, who competes for the USA women’s bobsled team. She asked him to come to a bobsled combine in South Carolina. Bobsled and skeleton coaches looked on as he competed in sprinting, jumping and throwing drills. Harrison compared it to what players go through at the NFL Combine.

After his performance, Harrison was one of 20 athletes selected to compete at the preliminary push championships, one of many push events throughout the country, in Lake Placid. At the push championships, athletes are timed as they push a single bobsled down a track.

“When he gets passionate about something, he gives everything he has to be the best he can be, and it just so happen he is really good at bobsled as a pusher,” said Rick Fillman, Harrison’s track and field coach at Edmonds-Woodway. “The dedication that he brings to whatever it is he is doing, he’s not the kind of guy to dabble in it. If he’s going to do it, he does it, and I saw that even in high school.”

Harrison won the preliminary push championship and was invited to the national push championships in Lake Placid, where the top rookies and veterans compete to earn their spot on team USA. Much like the preliminary championships, each athlete pushes their own sled, and instead of coaches selecting which players advance, the drivers of each sled pick who they want to have on their four-person team.

Harrison finished second in at the national push championships and was selected by driver Steven Holcomb to push for USA 1, the top sled out of three on Team USA. He was one of five first-year competitors to be selected on one of the three bobsleds.

“It’s really competitive, for sure,” Harrison said of the national push championships. “Just like any sport, the top teams are given the most privileges, so it’s very competitive to get on the top team.”

Harrison will push with USA 1 as the brakeman when they compete at the world and international Cups this year. The brakeman pushes from the back of the sled and pulls the brake once the it crosses the finish line.

Growing up in Edmonds, Harrison played baseball and tennis, swam and ran cross country. His junior year at Edmonds-Woodway High School., he took up track and field, and after graduating in 2006, he ran track at Western Washington University, competing in the decathlon and javelin. He graduated with a masters in kinesiology from WWU in 2011.

“When athletes do many sports it’s called multilateral development,” Harrison said. “When athletes have that development, it usually results in better performance when they decide to specialize in a sport. Decathlon has a ton of skills in each event and that probably helped me a lot in bobsled. Skill development comes quickly to me because I played so many sports growing up.”

Harrison now helps coach track at East Tennessee State, where he is working on his doctorate in sport physiology and performance.

While bobsledding may seem like a simple sport to outsiders, those inside the sport know the athletes must be in top shape to compete on a high level. Harrison compared the body type of a bobsled pusher to that of an NFL linebacker, and said you have to be strong and fast.

“I saw his picture for the team bio and he is definitely bigger than he was in high school,” Fillman said.

Harrison plans to compete with Team USA for the next four years if his health and performance allow. After bobsledding, he hopes to coach track and field.

“Alex is going to be extremely successful with whatever he does in the future because you know he will put his heart and soul into it,” Fillman said.

– By Erik Erickson

Reach reporter Erik Erickson at erike21@uw.edu. Twitter: @Erik_Erickson


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