This is a story I've wanted to write for over fifty years, ever since the early 1960s when I first saw Harry Jerome run. At the time I was engaged to Trinidadian Carlos Charles who was a sprinter at UBC so, of course, I went to all the track meets. And that's where I met Harry. At that first track meet, although my memory may be faulty, I remember Carlos beating Harry in the 100 yards and the 200.
But it soon became clear that this 'kid' from North Van was no ordinary runner. Harry was a serious runner. He was in it to win. And soon, win he did, race after race. Not only was he winning, but he did it with what seemed to be a completely effortless stride. We were amazed that he wasn't even winded at the end of his races. That young fellow had determination. He had drive. Sometimes, he struck us as being quiet, shy, reserved. Not 'one of the guys' like his good friend, Paul Winn, who was also part of the track community. Paul always had a joke to tell and a big hearty laugh.
At the time, I wondered about Harry. He hadn't come from the West Indies as had many young people in track. Where was he from? What was his background? Where did he get that drive, that determination? What had brought him to the point of becoming one of the fastest runners in Canada? In the world?
I met his sister, Valerie, around that time. She was a young teen also enthusiastic about track. Both she and Harry were with the Vancouver Striders track team coached by John Minichiello.
Carlos and I were married in 1961 and he left the track scene behind. But we both continued to follow Harry's story with great interest as he went from triumph to defeat, then back to triumph again. Carlos and I raised four children, all of whom were keen about track and field and joined the local track club, the Jericho Jaguars. I have always felt that their devotion to track helped pull them through the teenage years. During those years at track events, we occasionally bumped into both Harry and Valerie, and of course, John Minichiello.
A couple of years ago, it hit me that although there was a magnificent bronze statue of Harry in Stanley Park to commemorate his achievements, as well as a large Harry Jerome Sports Complex in North Vancouver, some people, especially young people, didn't even know who Harry Jerome was. There were no books for children about this great Canadian hero. None. In fact, there are very few books for children about any Afro-Canadians.
My children, my grandchildren, needed a book about this Canadian hero.
I met with Valerie who generously shared with me stories about their childhood. I also met with Paul Winn who said that he still misses Harry every day, even though it's been thirty-five years since Harry died. John Minichiello gave me a detailed account of coaching this gifted athlete.
I'm interested in the connection between what people go through as children and who they become as adults. I thought about the sheer persistence it took Harry, so terribly injured, and then maligned as a runner by the press, and still having the strength to train so hard that he won a gold medal in the British Empire Games in Jamaica. That achievement would never have been possible if he hadn't already conquered huge obstacles and setbacks in childhood. Most people would have simply given up. But not our Harry. He was drawing upon a reservoir of enormous inner strength and fortitude many of us could never imagine.
I believe passionately that all children need to see role models in their lives so they can picture themselves as successful adults someday in whatever way of life they choose. I've written this book especially for my own children and grandchildren so they can catch a glimpse of themselves as Canadians in the history of this multicultural country.