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Rec Sports Spotlight: Harrison headed down under for track

Westminster's Kaileigh Harrison, right, competes next to Century's Megan Callan in the girls 100-meter dash at the county track meet in Eldersburg Thursday, May 12.
Westminster's Kaileigh Harrison, right, competes next to Century's Megan Callan in the girls 100-meter dash at the county track meet in Eldersburg Thursday, May 12. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Kaileigh Harrison has made a big name for herself in area track circles.

The Westminster High School junior is defending county champion in the 100-meter dash and had a number of other high finishes in regional and state track competition last spring. She has been to national competitions.

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But a little over a month ago she received an invitation to test her considerable talents on a much broader stage. Down Under Sports has invited the 17 year-old resident of Westminster to come to Australia in July and compete against athletes from all over the world.

Down Under operates international competitions in a number of sports such as volleyball, golf and basketball in addition to track and field.

As a youngster, Harrison played soccer. Her mother, Melanie Savage, took note of her exceptional foot speed and encouraged her to try running in sprint events.

Then, at the county's middle school spring play day for seventh graders, a whole lot of other people had an opportunity to see that speed. She finished first in both the hurdles and 100 dash.

At that point, Harrison joined the Westminster Wolfpack track club and began competing regularly.

As an eighth grader, she qualified with the Wolfpack for the Junior Olympic Nationals.

"I was really proud of myself when I realized I was good enough to qualify. It occurred to me that, 'I really am that good,'" Harrison said.

She continued her track career as a freshman at Westminster.

"It was a big change for me. Now, I was competing against people from all over the state. It was more difficult," Harrison said.

While she didn't qualify for regional or state competitions as an individual, her Owls relay team qualified for the state meet in both the 200 and 400 events.

Last spring as a sophomore, she broke out in a big way. Harrison won the county's 100 dash championship and was second in the 200. At the Class 3A West Region meet, Harrison was second in the 100 and fourth in the 200. She also qualified for the state meet in those two events.

Her mom enjoys watching her daughter, particularly in the relays where Kaileigh is often the anchor runner.

"I love to watch her run. If her team's behind, she brings them back more times than not," Savage said.

When she got the letter from Down Under Sports, Harrison was suspicious until she showed it to Westminster varsity coach Desmond Wars.

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"He said it was legitimate, and I was happy. Again I thought, 'I am that good.'"

The itinerary in Australia looks both exciting and challenging. The first three days of the nine-day stint in the country will be spent in training.

Then comes a three-day meet against high school-aged competition at Griffith University, which is located in Queensland on the eastern coast of Australia. Harrison says she has no particular preference as to which nationality of runners she prefers to go up against.

"I haven't researched that. It would just be cool to meet a lot of people from other countries," she said.

Harrison added that it would also be exciting to simply be part of the huge international track meet because the atmosphere would be very much like that of the Olympics.

Each athlete can choose four events in which to compete. The youngster prefers races that are short and sweet.

"I'd like to run in the 100, 200, and maybe the 400 although I'm skeptical about that one," she said. "I'd also like to be on a relay team like the 4x100 and 4x200. I probably wouldn't want the 4x400 because I'd die."

Afterward come other things including sight-seeing and a farewell dinner. The whole thing ends up with a three-day trip to Hawaii.

Harrison, who has never been to Australia, said she has not selected a particular site she wishes to visit.

"I want to see all of it," she said.

Harrison said she dropped soccer this fall to concentrate on track. Right now she runs indoor track for the Owls. Since the fall began, she has also been in specialized training which includes both running and targeted weight lifting to build her strength and stamina. She feels she will need that boost.

"I have been working harder at practice. I am more focused and at a higher level, than in the past. I definitely need to upgrade my game and workouts," Harrison said.

While she has a year-and-a-half of high school remaining, she is already getting college feelers. So far, she said she has letters from the Coast Guard Academy and Colgate University. Harrison, an honor roll member for her first two years, says she would like to land a Division I scholarship.

Her chances for getting one would seem very good considering her athletic achievements plus the fact that she's on the Westminster High School honor roll.

She has also excelled on another front-beauty pageants. She is 2016 Teen Miss Maryland.

But the youngster wants more out of college than to just make the track team. She says she wants to major in marine biology and pursue a career in that field.

However, the lure of the running track remains.

"I've wanted to go to the Olympics ever since I started running and being recognized in track. I've always watched the Olympics and thought it was cool. Now that I've been recognized, I feel I can achieve my goal," she said.

And Kaileigh Harrison is perhaps hoping that someday she can say one more time, "I am that good."

The family is currently raising money for expenses. Those wishing to help or get additional information should email melsav7@gmail.com or call 443-821-1474.

410-857-7896

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