At the age of 3, after suffering a seizure and briefly dying, the now 22-year-old was hit with a life-changing diagnosis of cerebral palsy upon recovery.
The threat of being confined to a wheelchair for life didn’t sit well with Harrison, so, with the help of his family, he turned to sport as a last-ditch effort to regain some mobility.
“Sport has always been massively important to me. I started golf when I was 5 because I needed to find a sport that kept me active and kept me moving,” he told Hawke’s Bay Today.
Nineteen years after doctors told him he would likely be permanently in a wheelchair, Harrison is defying the odds, with the next stage of his journey seeing him swap his golf clubs for goggles.
The eight-handicap golfer was crowned New Zealand All Abilities golfer of the year in 2022, but he’s also found success in swimming and athletics at a high-performance level as well.
“All through high school I was a runner and travelled around doing that,” he said.
Major Achilles tendon surgery at the end of 2021 was another bump in the road for Harrison, taking away any hopes of track and field Paralympic glory.
While the low-impact sport of golf was still a big passion, it wasn’t a Paralympic sport, and after reigniting his love for swimming Harrison knew he’d found a way to strive towards his Paralympic dream.
“I really like the collaboration with everyone else,” he said.
“The next big one for me is the New Zealand swimming championships in April next year. I’ll pretty much know by then if I make the Paralympics.”
Harrison is also a member of the ACC-funded Para Sport Collective, the pre-High Performance stage of the Para sport pathway as a swimmer.
The programme will see 20 coaches and 22 Para athletes participate in three national in-person camps and bi-monthly virtual connections over the first year to help realise Paralympic goals.
“It’s been really cool to be selected with all these other top athletes coming through and aiming for the same goal,” he said.
“The knowledge I’ll get will be massively important, especially when it comes to things like nutrition and the mental health side of things.”
His love for sport doesn’t stop on the field either.
Harrison is also in his second year of university studying a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science and was a member of the Halberg Youth Disability Council.
He wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for his family, physio, or coaches, he said.
“It’s always been a lifelong goal to get to the Paralympics, and it would be such a cool achievement not only for myself but for everyone who helped me along the way.
“It’ll be really tough but just going to give it a try and if I miss 2028 will be the goal.”
Advice for those with similar dreams was simple — just keep taking the opportunities and training hard.
“If you love something, go for it. Anything’s possible if you put your mind to it. There’s going to be people out there to help you out.”
Mitchell Hageman joined Hawke’s Bay Today in late January. From his Napier base, he writes regularly on social issues, arts and culture, and the community. He has a particular love for stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.