Words by Terrell Manasco | Image by Blakeney Cox
I got into the rear wheel of the cyclist in front of me and crashed my bike. It threw me completely out of my shoes. My helmet was cracked in seven places. I cracked my head open, had four cracked ribs, a grade one clavicle tear, and a concussion.
Angela Jo Harris runs everywhere. Jasper. Memphis. Chattanooga.
Angela (A.J. to her friends) has been running for about fifteen years now. In the last five, she has competed in numerous marathon events. Ironically, it began with another injury.
After playing softball at Walker High, and later at UNA, a hamstring injury sidelined her in 2001. “It took me twelve weeks to get it over it, and I picked up running,” she says, “I ran 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons.”
In the fall of 2014, A.J. became involved with the Jasper Track Club, formed in 2006 by Keri Trawick. “I started running with a Farmstead classmate, Katie White Vick,” she says. “The track club creates training programs for all types, from beginner to elite, and helps them meet their running goals each year. Almost every day there’s a group of runners leaving Gamble Park at 5 a.m. In March, they will be running at 5 a.m. and at 6 p.m. daily.”
Inspired by a relative’s cancer diagnosis, A.J. began training early in 2015 for the IRONMAN triathlon. “My aunt, Jackie Allred, was my mentor as a child,” she says. “She carried me to my softball games, coached me, and taught me to drive. When she was diagnosed, I made up my mind to train for IRONMAN that September in Chattanooga.”
The cycling accident that spring threatened to eliminate A.J. from IRONMAN before it even began, rendering her unable to train for fourteen weeks. After the crash, swimming, cycling—even driving—were verboten.
Her injuries gradually healed and that September, A.J. was numbered among three thousand participants in Chattanooga. Her voice cracking with emotion, she says, “I said if Jackie can fight cancer, I can race in IRONMAN.”
The race consisted of a 2.4 mile swim, a 116 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. To finish, she would have to cover 144.6 miles by land and water by the stroke of midnight. “I gained an extra thirty minutes by finishing early on the swim, but I would need that on the run.”
She would also need every iota of resolve she could muster after tearing a ligament in her left ankle on mile seventeen. As precious minutes ticked by, A.J. forced herself to ignore the excruciating pain and the golfball size knot on top of her foot. “I knew it would become completely mental to finish the race,” she says. “As the pain got worse, I had to dig deep so I kept pushing through.”
At 11:06:40 p.m., A.J. fulfilled her dream of completing her first full IRONMAN, finishing in a grueling 15 hours, 10 minutes, and 46 seconds.
But A.J. had another dream: to take a group to Memphis for a half/full marathon for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. In January 2016 she began recruiting a team for the December event. “At first they kind of laughed at me and said no,” she says. “They thought the idea of running 26.2 miles was crazy.”
That December, A.J. took eighty runners with her to Memphis. “Running through the streets of St. Jude is a life altering experience,” she says, recalling parents and children lining the streets, cheering on the runners. Over twenty thousand runners raised more than $8.2 million for St. Jude, of which the Jasper Track Club contributed $21,000 dollars.
From injury to IRONMAN,it seems that adversity doesn’t stop Angela Jo Harris.
It propels her. 78