DEWITT, Iowa — Terry Harris is the only individual in the history of Central DeWitt’s boys’ track and field program to run sub-11 seconds in the 100 meters. He’s done it on multiple occasions.
He ranks second on the Sabers’ all-time list in the 200. He’s a returning state place winner, a Drake Relays qualifier and a four-event participant at the Class 3A state meet for a second consecutive season this week.
Those are solid credentials for any high school sprinter. It becomes extraordinary once you stand next to Harris.
The senior is just 4-foot-11.
“It is flat-out amazing to watch him go,” Sabers coach Jason Lansing said. “You wouldn’t believe how many coaches and spectators have come up to me at meets and been like, ‘Man, it is fun to watch that little guy run.’”
Simply, how does someone with his short stature generate so much speed and compete with the state’s best sprinters?
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Harris said. “Genetics, I guess. I was born with a gift to run fast. I’m putting my short legs to good use.”
Harris can't recall a time he wasn't the shortest individual in a race. First-time opponents, he admits, often give him a peculiar look.
“You know by the way they look at him, they’re thinking, ‘He’s short, he’s not going to win. Why is he even in this race?’” teammate Nick Smith said. “Then they see him run and it blows their mind.
“It is amazing how fast he’s able to move his legs.”
Born in Chicago, Harris dabbled with football and wrestling briefly. He didn’t like football. He couldn’t grasp wrestling.
Track was different. He started in eighth grade, had success and stuck with it.
Still, it wasn’t until last year that Harris really emerged on the state scene.
“My work ethic was not good as a freshman,” he admitted. “I just showed up and didn’t care that much. Over the years, knowing you’re able to do something and be good at it, you want to work harder at achieving what you want to help the team.”
Harris missed Kyle Meade’s old school mark of 11.07 in the 100 by five-hundredths of a second last year at the state-qualifying meet. He finished eighth at state in the 100, qualified in the 200 and ran the leadoff leg on a ninth-place 800 relay and a 13th-place 400 relay.
This year, Harris has made another leap.
He posted a 10.97 in April at the Ira Dunsworth Invitational, breaking Meade’s mark from 2005.
“My passion always has been to get up there and break the school record,” Harris said. “It is something I can be proud of, and hopefully it stays up there for a couple of years.”
Harris bettered that time earlier this month with a Wamac meet-record 10.88 in Epworth, edging out Western Dubuque teammates G Bennett and Max Steffen. It was the first time he had beaten them all season.
“We really drilled a lot that week getting out low, keeping your head down and having a good start,” Lansing said. “For him, the start is everything.”
The first 10 meters usually determines the outcome for Harris.
“If we can win that first 10 meters, especially in the 100, he’ll be in good shape because he can usually hold people off,” Lansing said. “If he doesn’t get out well, he has no chance in a race.
“His competitive advantage is he gets from zero to full speed in less than five meters.”
Harris is seeded fourth in the 100 (11.06) and ninth in the 200 (22.77) this week at state. He’ll also run the lead leg on the Sabers’ 400 and 800 relays, both ranked among the top 10.
Asked what his expectations were for the week, Harris was succinct: “Don’t get last.”
Besides an improved work ethic, Lansing said Harris has become more engaged in the program.
“A lot of times, he’d give you a one-word response and kept to himself as a freshman,” Lansing noted. “Once he developed that trust with me, our other coaches and teammates, he’s opened up a lot.
“He’s a little jokester, always making off the wall comments to keep the mood light and guys relaxed.”
Unless a college swoops in with a late scholarship offer, this weekend could be the final time he laces up his worn-out, size 8 1/2 spikes that he’s used all four years.
His current plans are to join the Coast Guard and work in law enforcement.
“I’d love to leave with a couple state medals,” Harris said. “That would mean a lot, a sense of accomplishment that all my hard work has paid off.”