From a very young age, Devon Harris knew that he wanted to make something of himself by becoming a soldier.
What he did not know is that one day he would make history by becoming one of the four Jamaican men to make their Olympic debut competing in bobsled, despite never seeing the snow thus inspiring the movie Cool Runnings.
Today, he is a motivational speaker bent on sending the message that persons should keep on pushing no matter what obstacles lie in their way.
“I was living the dream of representing Jamaica at the Olympics doing something I love”— Devon Harris
Harris, who grew up in the volatile community of Waterhouse, Kingston Jamaica has himself overcome his own obstacles turning to sports like football and athletics while so many of his peers turned to the gun.
From seven-months-old to five-years-old Harris lived with his grandmother in Haughton, St Elizabeth, Jamaica. He recalls she would always tell him stories of soldiers and how strong and determined they were and that even when they were hurt they would get back up and fight. He was so intrigued by her stories that he envisioned himself as a soldier.
“From the very beginning I knew what I wanted to become,” Harris said. “I wanted to be a soldier.”
Immediately after graduating from Ardenne High school, Harris joined the Jamaica Defence Force. He was sent overseas and spent a year in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK before returning to Jamaica as second lieutenant. He served for eight years. It was while in the army that he was recruited to be a part of the Bobsled team.
In 1988, things took a cool turn, when he was on the first Jamaican bobsled team that made it to the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. He told BUZZ that this was one of the best experiences of his life. And one he recalls with great joy.
“It was different. Calgary had the biggest impact because it was unusual to have a Jamaican Bobsled team,” he recalled. “I was living the dream of representing Jamaica at the Olympics doing something I love and getting to do it twice again.”
Twice again – because in 1992 the team represented Jamaica in the France Winter Olympics and in Japan in 1998.
But how did he know he would be able to bobsleigh having not grown up in a country with icy climes?
“You just cannot know until you try,” he said. “We had to convince ourselves in our heads that we would strive to achieve. But you can’t know for a fact until you do it. Sometimes you may fail or sometimes you may fall short but you have to get up and push on.”
Harris has not stopped pushing – pushing to have young people believe in themselves. And so after Olympics in 1998, he started on the pathway of motivational speaking in schools and at various events and has written two children’s books called ‘Yes I Can – the story of the Bobsled team’ and ‘Keep on Pushing – Hot lessons from Cool Runnings’. He said he intends to write other motivational books.
Harris, who is married with five children, is also the founder and president of the Keep on Pushing Foundation in New York where he has been residing since 1992. This Foundation helps to raise money to support kids in need both in New York and back in Jamaica to include his former primary school Drews Avenue Primary providing school supplies and other necessary items.
“Sometimes you may fail or sometimes you may fall short but you have to get up and push on”— Devon Harris
Harris says he goes back to Jamaica a few times per year to speak and visit his old schools.
His motivational talks include topics like pursuing your dream; overcoming adversity; teamwork; and leadership.
“ A lot of people like the topic of keep on pushing,” he said. “It is not something that is new to me based on my own personal experience and knowledge. When you try to do something, sometimes people will try to keep you down or discourage you and so sometimes you just have to fight.”
Harris still keeps in touch with his former teammates who did Jamaica proud in the Olympics – Michael White and brothers Dudley and Chris Stokes.
Harris has one critical message for young people: “Keep on pushing no matter what the obstacles.”
— Story written by Donna Hussey-Stewart