AT HOME ON THE WATER: Coeur d’Alene teen Harrison, a national champion in rowing, targets future in sport, Olympics

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Isaiah Harrison, 16, of Coeur d’Alene, competes in the single scull boat, a boat designed for a single rower who propels the boat with two oars. Harrison won the U17 national title earlier in June on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J. He hopes to compete in the Olympics.

Growing up, Isaiah Harrison knew he’d like to eventually get into something to do with sports.

Triathlons, maybe someday.

Basketball, possibly.

Swimming, at least five days a week.

But for Harrison, 16, it’s rowing that has his full attention now.

“Originally, I started rowing on an erg, which is an indoor rowing machine,” Harrison said. “When my parents would go to CrossFit, I’d go and use the machine there. I also read the book “The Boys in the Boat,” which is the story of the 1936 Olympics, which had eight guys from the University of Washington. It’s a phenomenal book and really inspired me.”

Harrison is 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

“The boat I row in is designed for someone around my size,” Harrison said. “It’s built for someone around 240/250 pounds — which I’m about 225 right now — and for someone that’s about 6-10. I’ve had people refer to my height as something called ‘Baby Giraffe syndrome,’ but I’ve got pretty good balance. You learn to coordinate different movements and actions along with the boat, which is the same for all rowers, no matter what size they are.”

“I’m on the Coeur d’Alene High swim team,” Harrison said. “I enjoy a lot of other sports, but with rowing, the base level of fitness and confidence it gives you is great. And with how painful it is, it makes you feel like you can do anything. I also play Ultimate Frisbee. That or volleyball is fun. Anything that I can work at, I really enjoy.”

Harrison is home schooled.

“Being home schooled allows me to row continuously,” said Harrison, a rising junior. “A lot of schools, they might not have a rowing program or don’t support a single (boat), because that’s a little different classification that some high school programs do. Being home schooled brings up a lot of different possibilities. I can travel more, attend more regattas and travel to meet with different coaches in Seattle in the middle of the week. It opens up a lot of different areas to compete in.”

Harrison added he enjoys rowing for many different reasons.

“It’s very technical,” Harrison said. “And it’s very physical. Rowing is something where you’re constantly learning and adjusting to the conditions. Whether it’s balance or technique, or just getting out in the water and trying different things, it’s extremely technical. It’s something you’ve got to constantly push yourself in. It’s not an easy sport.”

Harrison competes in the single scull boat, which is designed for a single person who propels the boat with two oars, one in each hand. Racing boats are long, narrow, and broadly semi-circular in cross-section in order to reduce drag to a minimum.

Since an early age, Harrison has had his sights on the national stage.

“I’ve always wanted to do something in sports,” Harrison said. “I’ve thought about doing the Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and wanting to compete at a higher level. I’ve been watching the Olympics for a long time, but never considered it for rowing until I started rowing on the erg and the water. I started watching Mahe Drysdale from New Zealand, and he’s one of the best rowers in the single. Gevvie Stone, who’s won silver in the Olympics, is another that I’ve watched and she’s training in the double for the next Olympics.”

Harrison’s training often takes him around Mineral Ridge, where he begins at 7:30 in the morning.

“Most of the time, I’ll head out early in the morning and just get into the boat,” Harrison said. “I cross train a lot, and run on the trails around Mineral Ridge a lot and lift (weights) at the Kroc Center at least five days a week.”

Living on Lake Coeur d’Alene doesn’t hurt either. There is a proposed development in the works near Harrison’s home in Wolf Lodge Bay north of Highway 97.

“The biggest asset I’ve got is the lake,” Harrison said. “It’s something that I use five days a week. If I’m out there rowing, there’s different things that can mess with me at different times. One big thing is the difference that the new development is going to bring up. I’ve swam out there for years, and it makes a huge difference. That (Mineral Ridge) and Wolf Lodge Bay are the western gateway into the lake, and it’s something, not only for me, but the general public, needs to be protected.”

In June at the U.S. National Championships, Harrison won the U17 national title in 7 minutes, 25 seconds on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.

“Going in, because it was the first year they’ve done the U17 and U15, I had no idea what the rowers and competitors were going be like,” Harrison said. “I knew I was doing really well in the indoor stage, so I knew I could compete with them.”

Harrison won by 12 seconds.

“When you’ve got people that have been training since they were 8 or 9 years old, they can just go out and do well,” Harrison said. “It’s definitely really competitive and that was one of the things I had to keep my eye on.”

“He’s always been very athletic growing up,” said Joa Harrison, Isaiah’s father. “I knew he was probably going to do some sports that involved his height growing up. But just his ability to work through the pain has been amazing. Rowing is a very painful sport, and one of the most painful you can do because 80 percent of your muscles are involved. Just how he can deal with the pain, and how dedicated he is to it and getting faster has been great to see.”

Harrison holds nine national indoor records in his age group (15/16 years old) for rowing. Indoor rowing is done on an ergometer, essentially a rowing machine, which is designed to simulate competing on a lake.

“As he was setting records, I just kept saying to keep it up,” Joa Harrison said. “At a point, it’s like, ‘let’s see where it goes, and leave that carrot in front of him.’”

“There’s a big difference in rowing on an indoor machine and on the water,” Isaiah Harrison said. “On the water, it’s generally understood where the best rowers will have 70 percent power and 30 percent technique. On the indoor, there’s a little more power output. It’s a little more tiring on the water, but it also focuses more on small movements. At nationals, it was probably one of the most challenging rows I’ve ever done, but maybe the most fulfilling.”

As for what keeps him going on the water ...

“I draw different inspiration from different places,” Harrison said. “I’ve got some long-term goals that I’m working on. In the next few years, hopefully I’ll be competing at the world championships and doing well there and getting to the Olympics later in life. On the water, honestly, just getting the race over is a big part of it. Sometimes, I’ll just try to row faster to get (the race) over faster. Seeing the success of the people before me helps keep me motivated as well. My grandfather (Stanley Joe Harrison) rowed in the Navy, and that’s something and someone I’ve learned from that has helped me as well.”

Harrison will continue to compete at the junior level for the time being.

“I’ll be competing at the U19 level for the next two years,” Harrison said. “The idea is to make it to the world championships. After that, I’m not sure what’s going to be next.”

While Harrison hasn’t looked into any colleges next, he hasn’t ruled out competing at the next level either.

“There’s a lot of different areas that would be great to go to,” Harrison said. “Right now, I’m not sure which would work best. I’ve got to figure out where would work and I’d fit in, or even if I want to go to college. I might consider starting a business and develop that into something as well.”

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