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Florida junior Brittany Harrell is healthy and back in form after missing the 2013 season.

Wednesday May 14, 2014Florida's Brittany Harrell Seeks a Return to Top of Heptathlon at SEC Championships

Florida junior Brittany Harrell is healthy and back in form after missing the 2013 season.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The road trips took the Harrell family of McComb, Miss., to places as far as a weekend could make it.

Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Alabama were frequent destinations. Most of the mileage was for the youngest member of the family, Gators redshirt junior Brittany Harrell.

Instead of hanging around the house watching TV or playing video games, Harrell was usually at a Junior Olympics track and field meet competing in as many events as she could enter.

"I was so young I didn't know what tired was,'' Harrell said.

Brittany Harrell

The SEC Championships was a regular stop on the Harrell Family Track Tour. This was long before Brittany signed with the Gators and won the 2012 women's outdoor heptathlon title.

Her parents, Kelvin and Bridgett, are former athletes and share a passion for track and field. With the LSU campus only about a 45-minute drive from their home, the Harrells gained an appreciation for the SEC's strong track programs.

As Brittany got older and blossomed into a state champion in multiple events at McComb High, SEC schools took notice.

LSU or Ole Miss seemed like obvious choices to those in her small hometown off Interstate 55. However, former Gators assistant and current Ole Miss head coach Brian O'Neal, a Mississippi native, urged Harrell to visit Florida.

She didn't want to leave.

"I fell in love on my visit,'' she said. "I was sold."

When the No. 1-ranked Gators open the 2014 SEC Outdoor Championships on Thursday at the University of Kentucky, Harrell will serve as the opening act.

That is a soothing thought for Gators head coach Mike Holloway, who watched Harrell shatter the school record in the pentathlon at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.

"She is kind of our leadoff girl as far as getting some momentum going,'' Holloway said. "She has had some monster training sessions."

When you compete in seven events (100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump, javelin throw, 800 meters) like Harrell will at the conference meet, there is a lot of training involved.

She gets a workout by just running from station to station at meets.

"I don't really have a favorite. I've learned to like them all,'' she said.

Her normal practice routine: six days a week, three hours a day.

Sunday is for rest.

"I do absolutely nothing,'' she said. "I don't even touch outside."

Harrell has come back strong after sitting out the 2013 season. For much of her sophomore season two years ago, her knee felt like someone took a hammer to it after long days of practice.

She eventually underwent tests and doctors discovered a chipped patella tendon. Harrell underwent surgery and embarked on a rehab schedule that forced her to slow down for a change.

It wasn't an easy transition.

In the season away Harrell developed patience she didn't know was possible. She also took a renewed interest in overall health and getting her body in peak condition when she could return to competition.

"I was hungry to get back out there,'' she said. "When I came back, I kind of said, 'OK, I'm going to come back with a vengeance to reclaim my titles and just work even harder.' I don't have like a bad event and I don't have like a crazy good event."

The approach has helped Harrell set personal-best times in the 100 hurdles (13.84 seconds), high jump (1.76 meters) and long jump (6.07 meters) during Florida's outdoor season.

Gators assistant coach Steve Lemke works with Harrell in throwing events. Prior to coming to Florida, she had never thrown the javelin. Now she is one of the best in the country.

There is no secret to her success.

"She comes to practice ready to work every day,'' Lemke said. "She has just taken it to another level, her understanding of events and the execution."

To help her stay locked in, Harrell is training with another accomplished performer in the heptathlon, former Nebraska standout Chantae McMillan, third in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. McMillan relocated to Gainesville with an eye on the 2016 Olympics.

But to trace Harrell's rise in the sport, you must go back to her home in Mississippi and the way she was raised.

Her parents will be in Kentucky this week as usual cheering for one of their own. In fact, Kelvin Harrell usually finds a spot around the track when Brittany runs the 800 to encourage her and serve as a familiar face.

"She knew the time commitment coming in just based on her past experience,'' Lemke said. "Her parents are great. They would still come to the meets [when she was out last season]. It was amazing. She's got a lot of support from home."

Harrell enters this week's SEC Championships with the third-best women's heptathlon score of the outdoor season (5,620 points). She won the title in 2012 with 5,838 points. The Georgia duo of Kendell Williams (6,018) and Quintunya Chapman (5,659) has the league's best two scores in 2014.

Harrell has tunnel vision: a repeat.

"That's my goal. I don't like to settle,'' she said.

She certainly left town prepared to make it happen.

Harrell has put in the training. She is healthy, fully recovered from the knee injury that kept her sidelined last season. And she knows she can still improve in all her events heading toward the NCAA Finals next month.

Oh, and she packed accordingly. When you compete in as many events as Harrell does, the right shoes are important.

"I pack eight pairs,'' she said. "I have a suitcase just for my shoes."

To be safe, she never checks the shoes at the baggage counter. Carry-on only.

 

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