BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Sometimes life and sports intersect and interact. A person’s evolution as an athlete cane be directly traced to his or her maturation as a person.
But for Jared Harnish, things are a little different. His progression as a distance runner and a young man have run more parallel courses.
Harnish has certainly come further than 3.1 miles, as both an athlete and a person. But his paths have rarely crossed.
Harnish, an extremely shy and humble senior from Elco, has – and continues to – overcome a learning disability that affects his ability to read. Meanwhile, on a different front, Harnish has turned himself into perhaps the finest cross country runner that the Raiders have ever produced.
“I just can’t read,” said Harnish. “I’m not dumb or anything. I don’t like talking about it. And no, it doesn’t affect my running at all.
“I don’t really care what people think,” added Harnish. “And no, running doesn’t make me feel better about myself.”
“He’s humble,” said Elco cross country coach Chuck Gerberich. “But he’s come a long way from being shy. He’s come out of his shell with the cross country family. You do hear ‘the world according to Jared’ when he’s with them.”
No, Harnish is not dumb. In addition to his school work at Elco, Harnish also attends Lebanon County Career and Technology Center, and he recently received a Raiders scholar-athlete award for a grade-point average that is over 3.5, out of four.
To assist him with his reading issues, Harnish is sometimes accompanied by an aide.
“He works as hard in the class room as he does anywhere else,” said Gerberich. “When I had him in math, he was one of my smartest kids. The hardest thing for him is words. I had to help him with a goal sheet at the beginning of the season, but it was his words going on to the paper.
“Whenever we talk about a race plan, he follows through with exactly what he’s supposed to do,” Gerberich continued. “We had plans for who he should be following in every race during the regular season. When he goes out, he runs according to the plan.”
Recently, Harnish became the first Elco runner to ever medal at the PIAA Cross Country Championships, which were contested in Hershey. Not only did he earn 16th-place hardware, Harnish’s performance capped a career of improvement that simply exploded this fall.
“I didn’t want to do it any more,” said Harnish, about the end of the season. “I don’t know. Yeah, I guess I’m glad I did it. But if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have thought about it.
“When I think of it, it makes me feel proud,” Harnish added. “It made me realize how big the state really is. The thing I’m most proud of is states, and how I did there.”
“I think it puts him in there, as one of our best runners, distance-wise,” said Gerberich. “From a program perspective, he has changed the landscape. Now, to our younger runners, he has become a hero. They have a standard to put in front of them. They know what it takes to be on the league medal stand, what it takes to be on the district medal stand.”
Harnish burst on to the local running scene back in September, when he won the individual championship at the Lebanon County Meet at South Hills Park. He followed that up with a seventh-place effort at the Lancaster-Lebanon League Championships at Ephrata Middle School in October, and a fourth-place medal at the District Three Class AA run at Big Spring High School.
Each time, he shaved at least 22 seconds off his best time, a pattern that culminated with a 16:13 at districts. Harnish was clocked in 16:39 over Hershey’s difficult state course.
“I’m pleased with them,” said Harnish of his times. “At districts, I thought I could get 16-flat. But the course was pretty hilly. I didn’t think it was that fast.”
“The times were going down,” said Gerberich. “At states, time didn’t matter. If he ran 17:40 or 16:39, and got 16th, place was what we were shooting for. His time on that Hershey course was great. The league time was a personal record. The time at districts was a personal record. I’m a stat guy, and among the top ten finishers from the league meet, he dropped the most time at districts. You’re always hoping you’re going the right way.”
A peak at Harnish’s junior season puts an even greater perspective on his accomplishments as a 12th-grader. Last year, he was 110th at states, 22nd at districts and 28th at leagues.
“I didn’t think the ceiling was as high as he put it,” said Gerberich of Harnish. “The summer training was key. And he continued that training into the season. We did’t back down until late.
“We liked our chances at the county meet,” continued Gerberich. “At the beginning of the season we thought he could be in the top 20 at districts and the top 50 at states.. But we knew at leagues, something special was possible.”
“Time is important because it’s the only thing you can control,” said Harnish, who has taken off training only five days (Sundays) since June. “As far as the times, I thought it worked out good. I thought coming into the season that I was only going to run 16:40. I improved more than I thought I would. The summer training helped.
“My brother Michael helped me a lot,” Harnish added. “He talked me into doing it. Without him, I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously. He just told me when I should run. He kept me on a schedule.”
Harnish, who competes in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs for the Raiders during the spring track and field season, was also honored as a Lancaster-Lebanon League first-team all-star.
“If you checked where the top runners at the state meet were coming from (the year before), you wouldn’t see his name,” concluded Gerberich. “That’s (110th to 16th) a big jump. That’s what really makes this special. You don’t hear those jumps. It’s a progression. But Jared really came into his own.”
As both a competitor and a human being.