As Isaiah Harrison tells it, he has always been a really competitive kid.
"When I was really little, like 6 or 7, I remember getting a pull up bar for Christmas," said Harrison at the CRASH-Bs, where he set a new American U19 record for 2k (5:53.2), and broke his own world record for the Men's 15-16 age category. "I was like, let's see what happens. I was able to do 15 pull ups at one point, when I was pretty young. I feel like the willpower that I have is a god-given gift, and rowing has really helped to develop that into something."
That "something" that Harrision, at 16 years of age, modestly refers to the fact that he owns all 13 erg world records for his age group, as kept by Concept2.
It started out innocently enough, Harrison says. "I started rowing when I was 12, actually," Harrison, who hails from Couer d'Alene, Idaho. "One of my parents was in Crossfit, and my dad bought a machine just for home fitness. I started using it, and after a few months my dad started looking at the age groups rankings online, and noticed that my times were in the top 3 consistently. So when I was 12, we started looking at the youth world records and I managed to set 8 world records before I turned 13."
As his numbers have gotten faster, so has his motivation. "I've always been someone who can see a challenge and say, 'yes I want to do that,'" he says, but he's also grounded enough to admit that he has to endure rough patches, just like anyone else who trains.
"There have definitely been days where I'll try a hard piece, and I get into it and it's not going how I want to...mentally, I just slowly fade," he says. "That will happen for a period of time, and then I'll do a piece where I do really well, and I'll snap be back into racing hard. I go through setbacks, but the biggest thing I've found is even if you take a few days off and come back to it and mentally reset, then you can really work hard those next few days."
Harrison supplements his rowing training with swimming, and finds balance on most days, but is quick to acknowledge the load. "Right now, swimming is a form of cross training, I swim in order to row better. There have been days where I'll row in the morning, then I'm with the competitive swim team, and I'll have a day, where I've lifted, rowed, and swam the whole day. My head's hurting, and I'm, like 'wow, this is going to be fun tonight.' Then, I get up the next morning and think, 'let's go, whatever the day brings.'"
Harrison (center), on the podium at CRASH-Bs
Although primarily an erger by trade at the moment, Harrison has gotten his oars in, and his goals lie on the water. "We own lake front property in Couer d'Alene, so in the summers, I'll go down 5:30-6:00am, pull out the single and row for an hour and a half, two hours, just right off our dock."
"The goal this year is definitely rowing internationally, that's always been a huge goal," he said. "I'm really looking forward to competing on the water. That's an entirely new element of rowing, and it's incredibly enjoyable."
Despite his confidence and prowess, Harrison is likely aware that the path from erg phenom to fully-formed rower is fraught, and is not always straightforward. But as precocious as his erg score, Harrison's understanding of his own athletic path is astute.
"I've had a lot of people tell me that, because I'm young, that means I can hold off for now, and then really push it when I get older. That's something I've always thought is a little bit undermining. Because as a competitor I want to come into every race and be ready to push it," he says. "I want to work as hard as I can right now. Take your rest days, get lots of sleep, but don't let someone tell you that just because you're young you shouldn't be working and meeting your goals. That's something I think you should never tell a young person, instead encourage them to put their full effort into it every time and let that build them up into a competitive athlete."
Will we see Isaiah Harrison in a boat soon? At this pace, you'd have to say sooner rather than later.