Isaiah Harris Is Still Learning How Fast He Might Be

Photo via Cardoni

Isaiah Harris is really, really fast. This is kind of obvious: You’d assume that runners who receive Division I track scholarships can run much faster than the average person.

But in Harris’ case, his speed is almost unrivaled. On Jan. 28, 2017, the sophomore star lined up for the 600 meters at the Penn State National Open. Competing next to his friend, professional runner Casimir Loxsom ’13, Harris threw down the second-fastest time in the event ever.

The previous world record for the race, which was set eight days prior, was 1:14:97. Loxsom finished the race in 1:14:91, while Harris ran a 1:14.96. This was all in the plan for the pair, as Loxsom had mentioned to Harris prior to the event that he planned on breaking the record.

Harris had beaten Loxsom a few times in the past, so he had a strategy. He wanted to get on Loxsom’s shoulder, hang there, and try to beat him down the race’s home stretch. That didn’t quite happen, but he came about as close as humanly possible.

This was the latest big moment for Harris during his wildly successful collegiate career so far. The Gatorade Player of the Year for track in his home state of Maine as a high school senior, Harris is a middle-distance runner whose specialty is the 800 meters.

Since joining the Nittany Lions, he is 4-for-4 on Big Ten champions in the 800—he won the indoor and outdoor titles as a freshman and successfully defended his titles as a sophomore. Harris has also made it to the NCAA Championships in the 800 meters twice, coming in fourth in 2016 and second in 2017.

In addition to all of that, Harris nearly topped his freshman year off with a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics in the race. The top three made the team, and competing at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore., Harris came in sixth place. Afterward, Penn State track coach John Gondak told Harris that he never had an athlete make it that far.

“Going into it I didn’t have too high of expectations for myself,” Harris says. “Not saying that I was just happy to be there, but I didn’t really know what I was capable of. I kind of just went in and felt I had nothing to lose and just went through the rounds. By the time I made it to the finals, I wasn’t super nervous because I was like ‘No matter how I finish, it’s a pretty big accomplishment making this far, there’s nothing to lose.'”

It’s been a relatively fast ascent for Harris, whose track career began when he was a high school sophomore. He ran when he was in elementary school for fun but decided to give that up to play baseball in middle school.

Photo via Cardoni

During his sophomore year, his godfather bribed him to give up football—the sport he played in the fall—for cross country and track. While he mainly did the former because he enjoyed the success the team had, and because it got him in shape for basketball, the sport he liked the most, Harris’ success on the track happened almost right away.

He made it to the state championship meet in his first year on the team, where he took home first place in the 800 with a time of 1:54:17. For reference, that time would have been good for 18th in the Big Ten this year. Harris did that as a high school sophomore.

Still, while he won a state championship, he didn’t quite know just how impressive that time was. He got a good idea after the meet, though, when he learned he informally got his first scholarship offer.

“The University of Maine coach talked to my high school coach and was like ‘I’ll offer this kid a full scholarship if he wants to come here,'” Harris says. “It was too early for the coaches to talk directly to me and he told my coach that. From that point I was like ‘Oh, I actually might be pretty good.'”

Fast forward a few years and Harris is among the fastest people on the planet. While he plans on getting his degree—an important goal for him, as he’d be the first college graduate in his immediate family—Harris has his sights set on winning an NCAA title in the 800, going pro, and seeing how far running can take him.

Next up is the U.S. Championships in Sacramento, which began on June 22. He made it through the preliminary rounds, coming in 15th with a qualifying time of 1:48:09. Harris will participate in the semifinals on Friday night, and if he makes it through to the finals, will compete on Sunday afternoon for a spot at the World Championships in London.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 23, 2017 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

George Etzweiler, 97 and Still Climbing

George Etzweiler made history over the weekend, becoming the oldest person to ever complete the Mount Washington Road Race. Etzweiler ’49, a former engineering professor at Penn State, has run the race 12 times and is a member of its hall of fame.

He’s 97 years old.

Courtesy Mt. Washington Auto Road

The 12.2K race presents unique challenges for runners—Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the northeastern part of the country at 6,288 feet, and according to Running Magazine, the average incline of the road is 12 percent.

Etzweiler holds a number of records for the race. He boasts the course record for three different age groups (85-89, 90-94, and 95-99), and is the only person above the age of 88 to run the entire course. This year, he finished the race in 4:05:29.

You can watch a clip of Etzweiler’s climb up the mountain here.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 22, 2017 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

From Penn State, Ty Burrell Stumbled into the Real World

Ty-Burrell

Ty Burrell’s portrayal of Modern Family‘s Phil Dunphy has earned a number of accolades, including a pair of Primetime Emmy Awards. One of Dunphy’s endearing traits is the nervous, nutty energy that Burrell ’97g displays.

As it turns out, that energy is something that followed Burrell as he pursued a career in acting. He wrote a column this week for The New York Times recalling the first time he met with an agent, which involves him soiling himself and looking at the McDonald’s golden arches “the way I imagine immigrants spotted the Statue of Liberty.”

But before he got to that point, Burrell explained how fear impacted his desire to put off finding a job and continue his education, which led to him enrolling at Penn State.

So off to grad school I went. I spent three incredible years at Penn State, working very, very hard and accidentally doing what I’d said I was doing it for in the first place, which was convenient. I did actually dig very deeply into theater and very deeply into acting. After graduation, I discovered, to my horror, that I had no more options to put off the real world. “Really? There’s no Ph.D. in acting? No acting think tank? No heavily funded acting research focused on one day finding the cure for blinking?”

Burrell appears in the film Rough Night, which comes out nationwide on Friday, June 16.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 15, 2017 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

For Zena Cardman, Space is the Place

Photo via NASA

Zena Cardman is getting an opportunity that is literally out-of-this-world. Cardman, a doctoral student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is one of 12 people selected this month for NASA’s 2017 astronaut class.

It’ll take a while for Cardman to get into space—her class will participate in a two-year training program before she qualifies for a potential mission—but she could become the fifth Penn Stater to fly with NASA, joining Guion Bluford ’64; Robert Cenker ’70, ’73g; James Pawelczyk ’85g; and Paul Weitz ’54.

“I am beyond humbled and proud to be a part of our space program, and in the company of this new class of astronauts,” Cardman said, via Penn State News. “It’s such a diverse group, and I’m thrilled to join my experience in microbiology and field research with the test pilots, medical doctors, engineers, and everyone else.”

Cardman has been working toward a doctorate in geosciences, focusing her research on microbe-rock interactions; she says she’s currently studying cave slime and the “totally dark” environment it lives in.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 14, 2017 at 8:44 am 1 comment

Are You Living the Dream?

A initiative wants to help people figure out if they’re actually on the right path to achieving the American Dream—and help them appreciate how they got there.

The Your American Dream Score is the brain child of GALEWiLL—a social change organization founded by Bob McKinnon ’90—in conjunction with the Ford Foundation and WNET in New York. It is being done in coordination with the public broadcasting initiative “Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America.”

Photo via Chasing the Dream

The American Dream Score is short quiz that looks at a number of factors that have impacted an individual’s life: the role your parents played in your upbringing, your friends, and your job, among other factors. At the end, it calculates your score on a 100-point scale and dives into the factors that helped you move up in the world and the factors you’ve had to overcome.

In a release, McKinnon said, “Our hope is that people from different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs, will find their score and share it with others to start more constructive conversations about how we come to be where we are in life.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 5, 2017 at 11:18 am Leave a comment

The Price Is Right for Ryan Belz

A recent Penn State grad took home a record sum on Thursday’s edition of The Price Is Right. Ryan Belz ’16 was selected as a contestant, bid $1 on Contestants’ Row, won, and got the opportunity to play Plinko—the show’s signature game in which contestants drop chips down a board for the chance to win money.

Once the game started, Belz put forward the second-best Plinko performance in the show’s history. He won $31,500, with three chips landing in the maximum $10,000 slot. His performance was unforgettable, but it paled in comparison to his reaction to getting up there and winning a ton of cash.

If you’re going solely by how people perform on daytime episodes of The Price Is Right, no one has ever topped Belz. The only person to accrue more money did so on a special edition of the show with a $20,000 slot on the board.

Sadly, Belz didn’t advance past the next game he played—spinning the Big Wheel for the opportunity to make it to the show’s final showcase—but seeing as how he already won a hefty chunk of change, he told Onward State that he wasn’t too bummed.

“My day, my week, my month, my year, and my life have been made!” Belz said. “It is literally a dream come true!”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

May 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

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