Harris finds strength and purpose in his mother
March 13, 2009
Zach Barnett, Texas Media Relations
While on a flight to New York City in January of 2007, Raymond Harris' mind was focused on the upcoming meet. That is, until he received a phone call after landing.
The voice on the other end of the line informed him that his mother, Brenda, had suffered a ruptured appendix. Brenda had been feeling stomach pains for a while, completely unaware that her appendix had already ruptured. The rupture had advanced to the point where she had developed gangrene. There was no guarantee she would survive.
While in the hospital, Brenda tried to keep the news from her son.
"I told everybody to tell him I wasn't there, but he knew something was wrong," Brenda recalled. "He kept saying, 'I want to hear my Momma's voice.' I had to tell him."
"She just made me promise her to do well throughout the season," said Harris. "Take advantage of what God has given you, that's her main thing. She's my best friend. It would have been a huge loss if I had lost her."
Thankfully, Brenda was able to recover and the reality of his mother's illness and the possibility of losing her forced Harris to see his life in a new light. As a result, Harris, who is working towards his degree in kinesiology, committed himself to the classroom and the track.
"It motivated me to take the summer and train and go to summer school," said Harris. "Catching up in school and also training set me ahead for my junior year."
Harris had already come a long way. Growing up in Nacogdoches, Harris was a football and basketball standout, but it was a chance meeting after a basketball game that got him into high jumping.
"I started high jumping my junior year of high school," Harris explained. "It was just after the (basketball) district championship game. The track coach came and watched us play in the playoffs. I had a big dunk, and after the game, he came up to me and asked if I was running track. I told him I was, but he said he wanted to experiment with me in the high jump."
Harris wasn't so sure.
"I had never done the high jump," added Harris. "But, he knew I had some leaping ability and he wanted to see how I could do."
So, Harris and his coach started working on the techniques, trying to get ready for the season. The whole time his mom was right there to help him in any way she could.
"His coach sent him home with some videos to watch," Brenda explained. "I was learning along with him. Eventually, I was telling him, 'pick your butt up' and stuff like that."
After a little practice, it was time to test it out in some meets.
"The first couple of meets were good, but I really broke out at regionals," Harris remembered. "I jumped 6-9, made it to state, and jumped seven feet. That really showed me that I could do it."
Harris' success left him with a decision. He was being recruited in track, football and basketball. LSU was the top school for football, Baylor for basketball, but there was something special about The University of Texas that drew him in.
"I had been to other schools, and in talking to the coaches, it came down to where I really wanted to be," Harris explained. "I had wanted to go to Texas since I was a kid and it just was a perfect fit."
So, Harris made the commitment to Texas and track and field. But, he had more challenges ahead of him.
In his short history as a high jumper, Harris had become accustomed to relying on his athletic ability to succeed. But, at Texas, he had a chance to learn from one of the best field event coaches in the country, Mario Sategna. Harris admittedly didn't take to the coaching right away and he chalks that up to being young and immature.
"I look back and see how crazy it was," reminisced Harris. "I'm still an amateur; he's been here years and has coached many athletes. I learned that what he was saying was right but I was just young and didn't understand the real concept. I learned a lot from it."
Harris credits the time during his sophomore season when his mom was in the hospital as the big turning point. He realized that he needed to do what his mother told him and it was time to take advantage of the opportunities he had. That meant more focus on high jumping, taking to coaching, watching film, becoming a student of the event.
Because of that, Harris moved from being in the middle of the pack to one of the nation's best.
"I really started to focus on things," Harris said. "I grew up and kind of became a man. There was a chance that I was going to lose my mom and it made me take a look at what I was doing and what I wanted to do."
Fortunately, he didn't lose his mom and she has been there every step of the way to see him advance.
"For most of Raymond's life, it's been just me and him," explained Brenda. "I've always been there for him."
"Me and my mom have been close," Harris added. "That's my best friend, she's my big sister, everything. I can go talk to her about anything and everything."
That includes high jumping.
"We have that connection where I can look at her as I'm walking over to Mario after a jump," said Harris. "If I get a thumbs up, it was a good jump. If I get a thumbs down she'll say, 'Pick up your butt' or 'Run faster, you just didn't look smooth.' We're driving home from a meet and she's coaching me. From high school to now, I always look up at her whenever I get a miss or a make.
Now fully recovered from her illness, Brenda travels from her home in Nacogdoches to all of Harris' meets in Texas. She's become like the team mom.
"A lot of my teammates talk to her too," said Harris. "They call her mama. She's just one of those people that's easy to be around."
Fueled by the health of his mother and his continued focus, Harris was excited to build on his outdoor All-America season from last year. He did just that by claiming his first Big 12 Championship on February 28, which helped the Longhorns to their fourth consecutive indoor conference championship. On Saturday in College Station, Harris will be trying for another first, a NCAA Championship.
And after each jump, Harris will do what he's always done, look up to the stands and find his mother.