BILLINGS – When she learned she’d won the award, her reaction was disbelief.
“I honestly said, ‘no way. No way,’ Sharon Harris recalled to MTN Sports on a recent Wednesday afternoon. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The 71-year-old Billings grandmother couldn’t believe she’d won an award for something she loves to do anyway. Running and biking. Yet here she is, your National Congress of State Games Female Athlete of the Year.
Harris’ passion before all this exercise was teaching, which she did in Lockwood for 48 years. She only fell for fitness after deciding to ditch what she felt was a bad habit. And even that decision was competitive.
“Either I’m going to keep smoking and be a really good smoker, or I’m going to quit,” said Harris. “And when I decided to quit, I started walking, and that just wasn’t fast enough. I only had so much time to go so far and I started running.”
25 years later, Harris has collected eight gold medals between cycling and duathlon. And looking back on that first Big Sky State Games competition?
“It was a 25 mile cycling race out by Laurel and I think I took second,” she said. “But I had a mountain bike. I didn’t realize the big makes a difference, too. I just thought you had to pedal harder. So for a lot of years I did pedal harder.”
Travis Hutchinson, commissioner of Big Sky State Games Triathlon and Duathlon events, has know Harris for years.
“She shows up, she’s front center line every time,” he smiled. “She makes sure the other competitors know she’s there. I just hope I have that tenacity when I’m even close to that age.”
Harris was the overall winner in this year’s State Games duathlon, running one mile, biking 16, then running three more. Most would believe that’s her knees would take a beating at that age, but Harris is quick to point out the opposite.
“I didn’t start running until I was 46, so my knees are fine. I’ve got another 20 years.”
And when she says it, she means it.
“There’s no reason to quit. I love what I’m doing. Days that I don’t run, my husband is apt to say to me, ‘you need to go run.'”