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Keep Pushing: The Story Behind 'Cool Runnings'

Devon Harris, a founding member of the Jamaican bobsled team speaks about overcoming fear, staying motivated and pushing against life’s hurdles.
In 1988, Jamaica put forward an unlikely contender for the Winter Olympics in Calgary – a four-man bobsledding team. Before even stepping out onto the ice, the Jamaican bobsled team faced seemingly insurmountable hurdles. Speaking with Devon Harris, one of the team’s founding members, we discuss the lessons found in the struggle, the glory found in confronting one’s fears, and naturally, the movie that brought this story to life.

FEAR & GLORY

"I am scared of speed and heights". - Devon Harris
These are not the words you would expect to hear from a three-time bobsled Olympian. Laughing to himself, the irony of this remark is not lost on Harris. The former Olympian, reflecting on his memories of the sport admits that beyond the physical stress of training in sub-zero conditions, fear was his biggest opponent.
“I remember getting in the sled for the first time in Calgary and being scared to death. Crawling in next to a guy who had never even driven one, you don’t know what to expect so I just said,  ‘If I die I die’. I just resigned myself, there was no way I was going to come this far and not do it.”
Looking retrospectively at his life and personal journey, Harris reflects on the insurmountable odds that led him to the ice luges of Calgary.

PLAYING THE ODDS

"Your biography is not your destiny but your decisions are." - Devon Harris
Born and raised in the slums of Kingston Jamaica, Harris was constantly confronted with the inescapable challenges imposed by socio-economic poverty. Many of his peers were simply lost; victims to their circumstance and accepting of their fate. Growing up within this reality, Harris reflects, “I think the guys I grew up with just looked around, accepted their environment, and saw no way out. It’s easier to accept that as your destiny but I felt the weight of it.”
Recalling early memories of his childhood, Harris remembers evenings spent, leaning against a lamppost outside his childhood home, looking out at the affluent Forest Hills neighbourhood. It was in these moments of solitude, he would imagine a life beyond the poverty that surrounded him, and yearn for a way out of his present circumstance. The former Olympian recounts his childhood, “it was a really tough neighbourhood. You learn very quickly in those environments to be tough, to be persistent and to understand that you can’t achieve success overnight”.

THE SPARK OF AN IDEA

By holding on his vision of the future, Harris was granted a window of opportunity in the form of an unexpected offer. As a young officer, he turned his attention back to the Olympic dream and started to train. He recalls, ‘At the time I was dreaming about competing at the events in 1988, thinking that if I did what I knew best, which was just to run, I would get fit enough to go to the Olympic Games. I know now that was not really enough but provenance stepped in, these two crazy Americans came up with an idea to make a bobsled team and I tried out and here we are.’ Recognising his speed and athleticism learned on the track, George Fitch and William Moloney signed Harris’ up as one of the four founding members of Jamaica’s first bobsled team.
“Whilst common sense and contemporary knowledge would say that it’s impossible, you start creating these images in your head and you start to find a way,” admits Harris.

THE FINISH LINE

We are designed for continuous growth. It’s a destination not a journey. - Devon Harris
In their 1988 Debut at Calgary, the Jamaican Bobsled Team were off to a phenomenal start, one of the best in the competition. But coming off the eighth corner their sled hit the wall and the team endured 600m of ice grinding against their fibreglass helmets. The harrowing incident was broadcasted all over the globe, with the image of the four-man team being dragged along the ice luge as the world watched in stunned silence. The dream of Jamaican bobsledding appeared to have been over as soon as it began. The team, miraculously uninjured, slowly rose to their feet. Walking silently towards the finishing line with only the sound of their cleats crunching against the ice, it seemed all their hopes were over.
Then, through the wall of crisp silence, the sound of a single clap pierced through. Then another. In a moment of pure triumph, the four men found themselves marching towards the finish line in a resounding crescendo of cheers.
Speaking as man who has traversed the ups and downs of following a dream he offers some advice, ‘Look around the world and you see examples of organisations and individuals that have really pushed hard at the beginning and success they envisioned, then they pause, and become complacent whilst the world moves on. The challenge for all of us is to accept that it’s a continuous process,  and you have to remain hungry’.

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  • Sports, Features, Editorial, Writing, Publishing

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