Jamaican bobsledder, Olympian gives ‘Cool’ lecture

Harris shares lessons learned on Jamaican bobsled journey to 1988 Winter Olympics

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Three-time Olympian and motivational speaker Devon Harris spoke to students and faculty on March 31 about his unanticipated journey with the first-ever Jamaican bobsled team that inspired the Disney film ‘Cool Runnings’.

As part of the University’s Caribbean Writers Series, Harris told the audience the unlikely story of how he and his teammates trained for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada despite not being from a “winter paradise” and about life lessons he learned along the way.

“If someone told me way back then that I’d be speaking to you all in this room at this moment, I would have never believed them,” Harris, who pitched the idea of a bobsled team while serving as a lieutenant for the Jamaica Defense Force, said.

During the lecture, he displayed a slideshow presentation of pictures showing their preparation with obsolete equipment and inadequate conditions for sliding simulations. Harris says he saw his first bobsled nearly six months before the competition when the team practiced in Lake Placid, New York with the American bobsled team.

He confessed to the audience to being “scared to death” on trial runs in a bobsled, but added he was “hooked in an extraordinary way.” At one point during their training, Harris said the inexperienced yet confident Jamaican team said “let’s go beat them” to the Americans.

Even though the Jamaican bobsled team didn’t medal at the 1988 Olympic

Games, the experience was a success in Harris’ mind because it eliminated the belief that Jamaicans don’t do this event.

“How you see yourself is how the world will eventually see you,” Harris said. “Initially the world won’t see you that way because there will be preconceived notions about who you are and what you are capable of. ‘If you’re Jamaican you can’t bobsled.’ That’s how they saw us. They no longer see us that way.”

Following this team’s venture that year, the Jamaican bobsled returned five out of the next seven Winter Olympics competitions (1992, 1994, 1998, 2002) and most recently competed in Sochi, Russia this past February.

Their initial success and captivating 1988 story even led to a Disney movie with characters based on Harris’ teammates.

As for Harris, he is an athlete ambassador with Right to Play, an international humanitarian organization that uses sports in refugee camps around the world to enhance child development and build communities.

He is also a founder of The Keep on Pushing Foundation, which works to support and enhance the education of disadvantaged children around the globe. Students throughout the lively lecture were receptive to Harris’ empowering story and message.

“I felt he displayed passion for bobsledding and tried to show everyone there that all the preparation we do in school and community can come into play and create some of the best moments and experiences in an instant,” Andrew Pacura, an administrative studies major, said.