There are usually two sides to every story.
Take Manchester University senior men’s cross-country runner Blake Harris for instance.
Throughout the summer or maybe a study break during the academic year, there’s a seamless and effortless gait to the Fort Wayne native as he tracks through the side streets of North Manchester, farm areas near his home that sits smack dab on the Allen-Whitley county line, the paths by Homestead High School, on Manchester University’s campus or anywhere else he can find. That aerodynamic pace is a lot like the person that runs it … easy going with a trademark broad smile on many occasions.
On race day for the Spartans, there are definite changes. The seamlessness and effortlessness are still there but with more speed, adding to a grit and determination. The obligatory sunglasses are over the eyes, no matter the weather, and a pointed gaze comes over his face.
Third-year head coach Geoff Lambert wants to see a little bit of both sides of his two-time captain. As the start of preseason workouts tracks ever closer, Harris understands how important the role he and fellow co-captain Dan Baker has.
“The best thing that could have happened to me is going through previous seasons,” he noted in regards to leadership experience. “As an example, last season, I couldn’t have had better friends than Connor (Bresnahan), Thomas (Dean), Alex (Gudeman) or Riley (Worl), they taught me a lot about how to handle a captain spot.
The best way to describe (the process) is the way Connor and I were able to work together,” he added. “We’re polar opposites. He is chill, while I want to get things done. We had to find a middle ground, and we did. It is something I am thinking about for this year because Connor taught me to back off a little and enjoy things, as that can be effective. I just want to lead by example … we have a very young team with mostly freshmen and sophomores, and they will need to be taught the right way to do things and treat people. The previous seniors did this for me … now it’s my turn to share (that knowledge).”
Those thoughts are on the mind of the psychology major often, as he runs his daily workouts. Summer talks with his head coach add to his food for thought.
“My goal is to coach cross country and track and field on the Division III level,” he said. “Coach Lambert has been so good (towards this opportunity), as he allows me to just come in, hang out and talk.
I have started to focus on the little details that make people successful,” he added. “I enjoy the day to day process of getting better in addition to be a leader on the team. The opportunities I have gotten here at MU have been amazing and I have tried to take advantage of those in order to become the best person, runner, and eventually coach that I can be.”
Wise words coming from an athlete who almost did not look into running.
“I wanted to play basketball and football,” Harris admitted. “However, at 13, the signs were there for me to look elsewhere … too short for football and my shot wasn’t quite where it needed to be for basketball, so I gave running a chance.”
Lambert and the other coaches that have come through his life could not be happier.
He helped lead Homestead to strong billings at three semi-state meets before they broke through and made it to state during his senior season. His MU results have been a mixed bag due to several factors, including an injury that kept him out of competition and running for nine months during his junior year. Despite that, positives have been there – most notably a freshman campaign highlighted by a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference team championship and national meet berth and then returning to conference supremacy a year ago.
Before he fully gets back into collegiate running gear, there is some important time to spend with his grandfather on another avenue of racing he loves … this one from the world of autos.
“When I was little (Grandpa) used to go the races and bring me back die cast cars,” he reminisced. “I’ve been a fan ever since, growing up following Jeff Gordon and now I enjoy watching Kyle Larson.
I was at the Camping World Trucks event in Eldora a couple of weeks ago, and he and I are going to Michigan for the Pure Michigan 400 in mid-August,” he added. “For me, it goes beyond being at the race though. It’s a chance to spend time with him – hearing his stories and experiences.”
Something he will do as leader of the Spartans in 2017 … sharing his experiences and adding another side of the story for his teammates.