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November 1, 2014
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Sports

Hitting her stride: Junior sprinter has become the Bombers’ No. 1 motivator

  Alexis Forde
Go in-depth to find out what motivates track athlete Harmony Graves to break records, inspire her team and stay true to herself.

Stretches, squats and running — the way junior sprinter Harmony Graves begins her weekdays is not exactly typical of college students.

Graves has a routine of waking up at 5:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and 6:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for her daily, personal practice in Glazer Arena. Her workout consists of a combination of running, arm swings, lunges, squats, calf stretches, leg kicks and skips. After stretching out, she completes four 50-meter build-ups, increasing her speed as she dashes down  the straightaway.

Assistant coach Matthew Stuck is the only one with her as she goes through her practice routine. Mondays and Wednesdays’ practices are usually more focused on tempo workouts and longer runs, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually reserved for doing block starts with quicker and shorter runs. After every practice, she does a cool down of four laps.

Everything happens early in the morning without her teammates, who will practice later at 4 p.m. at Butterfield Stadium. As a therapeutic recreation major with minors in dance and theater, Graves spends most of her days and evenings in class or practice, forcing her to miss the team’s afternoon practices.

Despite practicing alone, Graves is an athletic asset for the Bombers. She broke an indoor college record at the Boston University Valentine Invitational on Feb. 8 in the 200-meter dash, finishing in 25.45 seconds. Almost two months later, on April 5 in Mahwah, N.J., she was on the verge of breaking an outdoor record as she crossed the line in 25.64 seconds in the 200-meter dash, just one second short of the college record of 24.70 seconds.

Graves said one of the only good aspects about practicing alone is the individual attention she receives from the coach when there are no other runners around. However, this situation can also be very challenging, Graves said. For instance, Stuck said most runners perform better in the afternoon, especially short sprinters.

“You can’t do handoffs or other exercises that require other athletes, and most importantly there is no competitive drive when you are running alone,” Stuck said.

Graves is not only one of the best athletes for the Blue and Gold, but she is also a great motivator for teammates at the meets. While she is not the captain, Graves acts as a leader by talking to and encouraging her teammates, Jennifer Potter, women’s track and field head coach, said.

Potter also said she admires Graves’ efforts to connect with her teammates because training alone is not easy.

“I am excited that she was willing to do that and still be part of the team, but not being able to train with the team, it is tough,” Potter said.

Potter said Graves’ competitive attitude has helped challenge herself when she has no other teammates to train with daily.

“She likes to compete, she does not like to lose,” Potter said. “She is hardworking and comes from a family with a very strong work ethic. I think those two things together really helped her being able to train on her own throughout the indoor season and for most of the outdoor season now.”

Graves’ family has several roots to the college. Her mother, Tanisha Graves, is a human resources operation coordinator, while her brother, De’Marquis Graves, is a sophomore applied psychology major and fellow track teammate. He’s a long and triple jumper for the men’s team.

As an Ithaca native, Graves still lives at home with her family in the City of Ithaca. Never having lived on campus is another feature Potter said makes her different than the traditional student-athlete. For the most part, Graves only gets to bond and spend time with her teammates at weekly competitions.

Graves was a member of the track and field team when she attended Ithaca High School, but since then, she has debated whether or not to continue track because of her interests outside the sport. However, something keeps drawing her back to the sport, she said.

After the death of her high school coach Dan Fravil in September 2010, Graves said she was committed to keeping up with track because Fravil was an important person in her life.

“The day before he suddenly passed away, I was going to tell him that I was not going to run, but before I told him he asked me to be the captain,” Graves said. “I ended up dedicating my entire senior year to him, and I ran some of the fastest times of my high school track career.”

Before this, Graves was still considering not joining the college’s team because she was not sure she would be able to balance work in her therapeutic recreation major and track anymore. She also wanted to focus on other extracurricular activities, as Graves said one of her goals is to produce a musical by the end of her college career. However, she said she changed her mind while interning at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

“I worked with 10 children, and they loved track,” Graves said. “I helped them establish a connection with Ithaca College and Coach Potter. I also got the girls of the team involved to teach the kids. Just seeing it really inspired me to get back.”

An expansive person by nature, Graves said she has always been a great motivator and does not limit her motivation and love of the sport to her teammates. She said she shares her motivational thoughts even with athletes of other teams during meets.

“I love talking,“ Graves said. “There are plenty of times where I’ve seen girls that just finished competing who are crying because they were so upset about their performance, so I instantly walked up to them and said, ‘Hey, don’t cry because first of all, you have another chance, there is another opportunity, and on top of that, if you put in the time and race hard, nothing else should matter.’”

Former sprinter and fellow junior Angela Mammino believes Graves’ outspoken motivational approach is extremely important for the team’s collective confidence.

“I think her approach best suits the team,” Mammino said. “Sometimes the girls need someone to be loud and encouraging. Someone who knows the anxiety they are going through; someone who has been in that position besides coach. Harmony is that someone.”

Graves said she is not sure if she will join the team next year because balancing schoolwork and varsity sport practices can be hard. Graves said she will make a decision during the summer, when she has time to reflect on the results from major track competitions toward the last part of the season and the goal she has set for herself in them.

“I was really upset because last semester I missed [Nationals] by like 0.2 [seconds],” Graves said. “I wanna go to Nationals and become an All-American.”