Mark Harris will kick your ass into shape

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Having once had the opportunity to race against Usain Bolt at the world junior championships, Mark Harris is now helping to bulk up Ryerson’s athletes and train them for the upcoming seasons. Gabriel Lee reports

This past Thursday evening, each member of the Ryerson’s women’s volleyball team was carrying an exercise mat from Ryerson’s Athletic Center (RAC) to the hallway beside the Lower Gym in preparation for what they expected to be a gruesome pre-season workout with Mark Harris, Ryerson’s newly appointed strength and conditioning coach.

At first glance, Harris, 28, resembles a WWE wrestler: broad shoulders, a chiseled core that is complimented by his arms which are larger than most Ryerson student’s thighs. Due to his hulking physique, his instructions came as a surprise.

“Today is going to be a mental detox day,” said Harris. “You need days like this in contrast to all the stress your body takes in.”

With that, Harris began conducting an impromptu yoga session with the team; constantly reminding the ladies to let the stress of midterms and the upcoming season fall by the wayside and concentrate on the task at hand. With students walking through Harris’ workout, the trainer’s imposing presence was critical in keeping the team focused.

“As I count down from 10 to one, think about going down an escalator slowly,” he said in a calming tone.

Harris’ ambition to become a personal trainer started at Birchmount Park Collegiate, his high school in Scarborough, when one of his teachers identified his affinity for helping others in the weight room.

Throughout his high school career, Harris was amongst the top runners in Canada for the 400 metre dash. He ran that in a blistering 47.27 seconds when he was 17, about four seconds shy of the world record (43.18 seconds).

He was fast enough to receive an invite to represent Canada at the 2002 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica. However, a lack of funding from the Canadian government, coupled with the financial constraints of flying halfway across the world, forced him to stay at home and imagine what could have been.

At that event the world witnessed a 15-year-old Usain Bolt become the youngest gold medalist ever to win the 200 metre dash. Bolt also competed in the 400 metre dash, an event that Harris would have participated in.

Despite the minor setback, Harris still received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa, where he graduated with a B.A. in exercise science as well as a minor in athletics coaching.

If he hadn’t accepted Northern Iowa’s scholarship, Harris could have stayed in Canada and trained to be a potential Olympic competitor. He was running fast enough out of high school to receive federal carding, which is money the government pays athletes to be able to continue running at the developmental level.

“It was an exciting thing and a fun accomplishment to get but the one thing people may not realize is that when you sign that [scholarship] contract in the United States you’re going to work,” said Harris. “I’d never go back and change the experience but I’d take a second look at it if I were to do it again.”

During his college years, Harris started his own personal training business on campus, charging students $15 per hour. At one time, Harris was training 10 people two to three times a week, and he managed to get his university professor to award him a practical credit for it.

After he graduated, Harris took a second look at his life and decided to distance himself from competitive running.

“I realized I was very good at running but I wasn’t great, I was sort of realizing life goes on and I had to start moving on,” said Harris. “Maybe get a job and do some normal things, be an active part of society.”

He gave running one last shot at the semi-pro level before retiring. Shortly after he founded Design Fitness, his own personal training company.

While he may not compete at the same level he used to, Harris remains a prominent figure on the Canadian running scene. He currently guides Brandon King, a visually impaired athlete who qualified for the 2012 Paralympics, around the track and was an ambassador for Lululemon for a year, training a group of runners for 10 weeks to compete in a five kilometer run in exchange for $1,000 worth of Lululemon apparel.

Growing up, Harris’ dream was to be the head strength and conditioning coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs; but he had no idea how to attain his dream.

Although Ryerson isn’t on the same level as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Harris enjoys the challenges that come along with training athletes from a multitude of different

“I’m always looking at the fundamental movements and seeing how I can add a fundamental weight room practice [to it],” he said. “Few people ever get the opportunity to truly do what they studied and love.”

Wrapping up his half-hour yoga workout with the women’s volleyball team, Harris calls the team in for a huddle, eager to hear their thoughts on his different approach.

“It was great especially after all the hard work we’ve been putting in as a team,” said Lauren Sokolowski, a second-year outside hitter on the women’s volleyball team.

“Mark works closely with us and is so good to have as a trainer because he really gets what we’re trying to do as a program and is pushing us towards that.”

Having once had the opportunity to race against Usain Bolt at the world junior championships, Mark Harris is now helping to bulk up Ryerson’s athletes and train them for the upcoming seasons. Gabriel Lee reports

Walking back to the RAC after the workout, Harris is more than satisfied about his session.

“I feel like if I can bring them their results and a smile at the same time, then I’ve really achieved something because I’ve hit them physically and I’ve hit them emotionally. “

With that in mind, Harris can’t help but think about the drastic changes that the athletes will be going through while under his watch.

“Keep pushing ladies,” he screamed. “We’re trying to create a winning culture … dial in, focus.”


  1. Oooo yeah, check out the paper copy for more muscle mag pix. This boy can kick my ass anytime ….

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