JEFFERSON — Two storied prep careers came to an end Saturday during the final day of competition at the Georgia Olympics on Bryan-Keen Track at Jefferson Memorial Stadium in Jefferson.
For Banks County’s Jay Harn and North Hall’s Nick Long, the stories that led them to their respective finish lines are different, but for each, the culmination was two state titles.
Harn, who two years ago during his sophomore year of high school was paralyzed after a fall from a deer stand, competed in the wheelchair 800-meter final and 200-meter final and finished the day as a co-state champion.
Long, who two years ago during his sophomore year won a state title in the 3,200-meters at the Georgia Olympics, bested his personal record by “...more than two seconds,” he said, to take home his second state championship of this year’s Georgia Olympics with a first-place finish in the 800-meter run with a time of one minute, 55.25 seconds.
“I feel great,” a jubilated Harn said after his second state title. “It’s overwhelming really. I worked it and feel like I deserve it.”
As the only member of the Banks County wheelchair track team, Harn was solely responsible for his team sharing the overall state title with Region 7-AAAA Gordon Central.
In an act of sportsmanship dismaying in today’s jaded world of athletics, Gordon Central coach John Rainwater approached Harn after his 200-meter, and second, state championship to say, “We (the Gordon Central team members) are going to have our pictures taken with the (state title) cup, but you are going to take it back to Homer.”
Harn, who finished second in the 800 and 200 in 2007, finished both races ahead of Lee County’s Jessy Karcher. In the 800 he wheeled himself to a time of 2:27.31, 14.88 seconds better than his 2007 finish and in the 200 his time was 36.77, 2.11 seconds better than last year’s second-place time.
“It’s been a lot of work,” Harn said. “It’s been a combination of a lot of (weight) lifting, hard workouts and great coaches in Jay Reid and coach (Rob) Moffett.
“I feel good, I feel healthy.”
Harn’s career in wheelchair events for Banks County included three state titles, one in the shot put and this year’s two championships. He also had four second-place finishes in the 200 and 800 in his career.
Long, whose running career concludes at North Hall with him having won three individual state track titles and one team cross country state title, collapsed after crossing the finish line in first place in the 800-meters, the final race of his high school career.
“I knew it (the ability to win the 800-meters) was in me,” Long said. “The potential was there, the training was there and the coaching was there, I just had to find it.
“I finished up with all I had.”
At the end of the first lap of the 800, Long was in third place but a determined sprint through the second turn of the second lap gave him a lead and, try as they might, those trying to catch up to him were not going to succeed.
Long came down the home stretch neck-and-neck with Darryl Collins of Dunwoody and finished .09 seconds ahead of him with a time of 1:55.25, the second-best time in the event for all classifications.
“That was the funnest race of my life,” Long said. “I felt shaky going in, running two races like this in two days is not easy, but I ran my heart out.
“This feeling is the best ever, I’ve never fell down (after crossing the finish line) like that. Dunwoody’s Collins, what a great runner he is.”
Long’s performances in this year’s Georgia Olympics, along with the performance of teammate Nolan Clark, led his team to a fourth-place finish overall.
“I came in (to the Georgia Olympics) as a sophomore and didn’t know much about the sport, but it’s the best thing I’ve done,” Long said of his tenure at North Hall. “It’s more than a sport. I’ve met people who will be best friends for life and it’s (running) taught me a lesson for the future moreso than right now.”
Flowery Branch finished the day in second place in the team standings with 36 points overall thanks to a third-place finish in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles by senior Norvell Van that earned his team six points and wrapped up the silver medal finish. Sandy Creek finished first with 55.5 points.
“We brought a lot of points to Class AAA from Hall County this year,” said Van, who finished the race with a time of 39.2. “It feels good to be part of the team that’s set the standards for Hall County.”