Harrison, Alvin and Calvin 1974–
Alvin and Calvin Harrison 1974–
Track and field athletes
Track stars Alvin and Calvin Harrison are no strangers to trial and tribulation. They have battled financial and emotional blight, but, through it all, they have clung to their spirituality, faith in God, and one another. Alvin and Calvin have always shared a steadfast bond with one another. They are not only brothers, but best friends. Though they began running track late, Alvin and Calvin exhibited the tenacity and courage to take the world by surprise and earn the title of “The World’s Fastest Twins.”
Alvin and Calvin’s determination was evident from the day they entered the world. They were born prematurely on January 20, 1974 to a 16-year-old mother who already had a daughter. Alvin was born first and stopped breathing after the birth of his brother. He was pronounced dead, but, when Calvin belted out an earsplitting scream, miraculously, Alvin began breathing again. “The breath of life was given back to me by my brother,” Alvin said in Go to Your Destiny.
Alvin and Calvin’s grandmother, Lucille, assumed responsibility for them from the beginning. The twins lived in their grandmother’s small two-bedroom house, which they shared with all five of her children. Alvin and Calvin’s great-grandfather had built the house, and their grandfather later made an addition to it in the 1940s. Little more than a shack, the house had painted cinder block walls and an unfinished bathroom. Alvin and Calvin shared everything, including a bed, their clothes, and even bath water.
The twins grew up in an Orlando ghetto. The neighborhood was saturated with drugs, violence, and corruption. As young boys, they rarely left their grandmother’s side. She played many roles in Alvin and Calvin’s lives. “Our grandmother was our father, mother and spiritual guide,” Alvin said in Go to Your Destiny. Their grandmother was a religious woman and often prayed over the twins.
Though everyone in their neighborhood was poor, Alvin and Calvin were often teased because of the dilapidated house thay lived in and the clothes they wore. Ostracized by their peers, they never really made friends. So the twins; became each other’s playmate. “We were each other’s companion,” Calvin said in Go to Your Destiny. “It has always been that way and it’s still that way today.”
Born Alvin Harrison and Calvin Harrison on January 20, 1974, in Orlando, Florida; sons of Albert and Juanita; Calvin, divorced; children: Shraee, Shiyah (Aivin); Jarijah (Calvin). Education: Hartnell College, attended.
Career: Track runners; authors, Go to Your Destiny, 2000.
Awards: Alvin: USA Juniors competition, third place, 1993; Pan America Juniors, competed, 1993; Bruce Jenner Classic in San Jose, won 400-meter, 1996; set personal record of 44.09 seconds in 400-meter race, 1996; Olympic Trials, set personal records for 400-meter in every round, 1996; Olympics, gold medal, 4 x 400-meter, 1996; National Indoor Track and Field, first place, 400-meter, 1998; Olympics, gold medal, 4 x 400-meter, 2000. Calvin: USA Juniors competition, first place, 1993; Pan America Juniors, competed, 1993; Reno Air Games, won 400-meter, 1996; Nike Perfontaine Classic, won 400-meter, 1996; National Indoor Track and Field, second place, 400-meter, 1998; set personal record of 44.64 seconds in 400 meter, 2000; Olympics, gold medal, 4 x 400-meter, 2000.
In 1989, when the twins were 12, they moved to Salinas, California to live with their father. He had left Florida to begin a new life and sent for Alvin and Calvin so they could do the same. In California, the twins had experiences that were totally foreign to them. They were exposed to a multicultural environment, lived in a nice apartment, and were able to sleep in separate beds for the first time in their lives. Calvin settled into his new surroundings well, but Alvin did not adjust as easily. Homesick, Alvin returned to Florida after several weeks. It was the first time in their lives that the twins had been separated, but they were reunited in the following summer when Calvin, too, returned to Florida.
By their second semester of high school, Alvin and Calvin went back to California to attend North Salinas High. California opened the door to rebirth. The twins blossomed and began to develop their talents. They began a love affair with music and later became a rap duo, going by the name of “Double Vision.” Alvin and Calvin discovered they had a competitive spirit in sports and they played football, basketball, and ran track. However, it was in track that their talents were most evident. Alvin and Calvin became hometown stars and began breaking numerous school and area records. Their father often sat in the stands videotaping their achievements.
During their sophomore year, the boys’ paternal grandmother, Josephine, became ill and the family moved to Florida so their father could take care of her. Alvin and Calvin now longed to return to California. When they were 16, they boarded a bus and embarked on the four-day trip back to California with nothing but two bags. With their father still in Florida, they stayed with friends, slept on floors or in cars, and moved 11 times within two years. Despite their hardship, Alvin and Calvin led the North Salinas High School track team to the California state track and field championship in 1993. It was the first time any school from the area had won the state title.
As the end of their senior year approached, the twins found themselves being recruited by many schools including UCLA and Columbia for football and track. However, because they did not have the grades, and the twins had not given much thought to their futures. “…Our primary focus still was trying to survive, to find a place to sleep and to find some warm food,” Alvin explained in Go to Your Destiny. Fate stepped in. They had caught they eye of Gary Shaw, the head track coach of Hartnell Community College in Salinas, and he arranged for them to attend the school on scholarship.
Soon after, the twins fell on tough times again. They were forced to move out of their apartment, and Alvin’s car was repossessed. Alvin decided to move back to Florida, while Calvin stayed in California. Then Calvin was injured in an automobile accident. He used the money from the insurance settlement to purchase a black 1989 Ford Mustang and drove back to Florida. In Florida, the twins worked odd jobs, but decided to go back to California. “There was too much of the past and no future for us in Orlando,” Calvin said in Go to Your Destiny.
In 1995 Alvin and Calvin moved back to California. At the age of 21, they parked on top of Monterey Bay and lived in Calvin’s Mustang for weeks—Alvin slept in the back seat, Calvin slept in the front. They spent a lot of time reading the Bible and praying, running and hiking. The twins showered at the homes of friends and at their jobs, and they lived off of fast food since several of their friends worked at restaurants. “Living in the Mustang was an obstacle we had to overcome. Everyone has to go through hardships and we had ours,” Calvin said in a FoxSports.com article. Later that year, Alvin and Calvin both experienced spiritual awakenings in which they said God came to them on separate occasions in the middle of the night. It was time for the twins to take control of their lives.
They decided to concentrate on making the Olympic team. Alvin trained with Gary Shaw, the twins’ coach from Hartneil Community College, and Calvin trained with Ed Barber, their coach from East Salinas High School. The twins made their names known at competitions across the county. In 1996 Calvin won the 400-meter race at Reno Air Games. Nike noticed his performance and offered him a contract. A few months later he won the 400-meter race at the Nike Perfon-taine Classic at the University of Oregon, beating Roger Black, one of the best 400-meter runners in the world. Meanwhile, Alvin won the 400-meter race at the Bruce Jenner Classic in San Jose.
Later that year, the twins put their preparation to the test at the Atlanta Olympic trials. Alvin qualified for the finals, finishing third in the 400-meter, and set a personal record of 44.09. In a heart-wrenching defeat, Calvin missed the opportunity to represent the United States in the 400-meter by a mere 7/1000ths of a second and lost the fourth spot needed to qualify to Jason Rouser. “I remember feeling devastated. Alvin and I had started this journey and now my brother would be on his own while I watched him from home,” Calvin said in Go to Your Destini;. Alvin won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics for his contribution in the 4 x 400-meter relay and missed winning the bronze medal by just 0.9 seconds in the 400-meter race.
Shortly after the 1996 Olympics, the twins’ younger sister, Africia, was murdered—shot seven times in the back by her boyfriend. Eerily, Alvin had talked to her only hours before her murder. He woke up at 1:00 a.m. unable to breathe and thought he was dying. When the phone rang two hours later, his father informed him that Africia was dead. For more than a year, Alvin and Calvin lost focus on the track, but by 1998, they were chasing their destiny once again.
In 1998 the twins competed in several national and international competitions. They finished neck and neck at the 400-meter race at the National Indoor Track and Field Championship. Internationally, they ran in competitions in Greece and South Africa. Alvin and Calvin’s performances put them on the fast track to the 2000 Olympics, but later that year, Calvin experienced another cruel twist of fate at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Calvin had injured his knee and, while icing it, suddenly felt his foot go completely numb. He was diagnosed with “drop foot syndrome,” a condition that partially paralyzed his foot. Eight months passed before Calvin was able to return to the track.
In 1999, while at a training camp in San Diego, the twins received a call regarding their maternal grandmother, Lucille. She had been given only 24 hours to live, and they could not afford plane tickets to Florida. Through arrangements made by the camp’s director, Alvin and Calvin boarded a plane and were at the side of the woman who raised them, holding her hands and praying when she died.
The twins returned to their training, but, after losing both their sister and grandmother within the span of a couple of years, it was difficult for Alvin and Calvin to maintain their focus. Calvin remained in Florida to train with Brooks Johnson, but Alvin was drawn back to California. According to Go to Your Destiny, he told Calvin, “If I stay in Florida, I won’t make the 2000 Olympic Team.” He needed to train in the environment where he was most comfortable. Alvin’s decision paid off. This time both he and Calvin made the Olympic team.
In 2000 Alvin and Calvin realized the dream they had worked so hard for. They finally had the opportunity not only to represent the United States, but to run with each other as the first twins ever to make an American Olympic track and field team. After training under Olympic assistant Bubba Thornton, Alvin and Calvin competed in the 4 x 400-meter relay with Antonio Pettigrew and Michael Johnson. Alvin ran the first leg in a time of 45.93 seconds and Calvin ran the third leg, handing off to Johnson, with a time of 43.55. Calvin ran 1.33 seconds faster than Johnson, who has been called the fastest mari in the world. “I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much in 1996 because Calvin is my other half that makes me wnole. We are very blessed to run together, bring home the gold together. It was very special and a dream come true,” Alvin said in runner-sworld.com. Alvin also competed in the 400-meter race, where he won the silver medal, missing the gold by 0.44 seconds to Johnson. “It was tough. Harrison was running well and I didn’t draw a very good lane,” Johnson said in the New York Daily News.
After the 2000 Olympics, Alvin and Calvin wrote a book about their lives. Before it’s publication, they appeared on The Oprah Show, where they shared a pre-per for mance ritual. Before one of them competes, the other will say “go ra your destiny” instead of “good luck.” “Go to your destiny leaves an opening so that whatever happens in the end, it was destined to happen,” Alvin told Oprah Winfrey, as quoted on Oprah’s website. Winfrey suggested they use Go to Your Destiny as the title of their book, and they took her advice.
Alvin and Calvin continued to train, preparing for events including the Goodwill Games and the World Championships. While track has remained a major part of their lives, music has also lived in their hearts. In fact, Alvin purchased an independent record label named Arrowhead Entertainment. Their families have also kept them busy. Alvin has a son and a daughter, Shraee and Shiyah, and Calvin has a son, Jarijah.
Alvin and Calvin have professed that the world has only seen a small portion of their potential. “I think we have a chance to become the future of track and field,” Alvin said in Go to Your Destiny. Whatever lies ahead for the twins, it is likely the world will be watching them both.
Harrison, Alvin and Calvin, Go to Your Destiny, Hyperion, 2000.
Additional material for this essay was obtained online at: http://sydney2000.nbcolympics.com/bios; http://www.usatf.org/99bios/harrisonal.html; http://www.foxsports.com/olympics/2000/stories/o0829trac_harrison_twinsl.sml; http://www.oprah.oxygen.com/tows/pastshows/tows_past_20001208_b.html; http://www.runnersworld.com/road2sydney/sydney/events/m4x400.html; and http://www.runnersworld.com/specials/olympic.m400m.html.
—Shellie M. Saunders
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