When Kendra “Keni” Harrison won the silver medal in the 100 meter hurdles in Tokyo she knew immediately she needed to call her siblings. Picking which one to call first was a challenge — Harrison is one of 11 children. But like any smart middle child she did the right thing by calling her oldest sister, Casey.
“I knew she was going to be up, it was late in America,” Harrison told Hoda Kotb on TODAY. “She said she was going to wait for me and so I was able to call her as soon as I got back to the (Olympic) Village.”
While Harrison has made a name for herself thanks to her speed at tackling hurdles, she and her siblings were once known for being carted around their hometown of Clayton, North Carolina in a reconfigured Marriott Hotel shuttle van — the only vehicle suitable for ferrying 11 children and two adults.
“I remember going to like elementary school in a bus and everyone use to think like, ‘Oh what preschool are you going to?’ and ‘I’m like, I’m going home. This is a family car,’” Harrison recalled to Kotb. “It just brought a lot of laughter.”
Harrison first started playing soccer but when the track coach saw her run they asked her to do some trial sprints and then invited her to join the track team. In the 2010 USA Junior Olympics she won the 100- and 400-meter hurdles and also ran in college, first at Clemson and then for the University of Kentucky. In 2016, Harrison became the world record holder in the women’s 100-meter hurdles after breaking the previous record that was set 28 years earlier. She learned her Olympic work ethic from watching mom and dad, Karon and Gary.
“They live by example. They’re hard working people and they taught me not to give up and to accomplish (your) goals you have to work hard. And so that’s just something I took from them,” she said on TODAY. “I’m just so happy to be bringing home ... a sliver.”
Karon never planned on having children but ended up with a large brood, including nine adopted children, according to NBC Sports. Harrison’s birth mother put her up for adoption and Karon and Gary learned about her soon after adopting their daughter, Tasha. After bringing the infant home, the adoption agency called looking for a home for another infant, Harrison. The two are only 11 days apart in age. While 11 children makes for a crowded house full of chaos, Harrison can’t image competing without so many people cheering for her.
“Just to have them support me and they’ve seen my journey, I know they are just so proud of me and just thinking of them it brought so much emotion over me,” she said. “I just want to make them proud.”
As for her future, Harrison says she’ll compete as long as she feels up to it.
“I want to go as far as my body allows it and I feel like I’m just getting started,” she said.