As most Canadian grade-schoolers know, those lines are from Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, written by Robert Frost in 1923. But for one outstanding Canadian athlete, who travelled great distances during his far-too-brief life, they had a special resonance. For Harry Winston Jerome, they spelled steely determination in the face of incessant obstacles. They are the words etched on his gravestone at Mountainview Cemetery in North Vancouver.
Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, on September 30, 1940, Jerome moved with his family to Vancouver at age 12. A natural athlete, he excelled at hockey, baseball, and football, but was an especially gifted runner.
His tremendous speed and agility became fully evident in high school, when, at age 18, he broke the Canadian record held for 31 years by Percy Williams in the 220-yard sprint. Jerome won a track scholarship to the University of Oregon, where he set his first world record by running the 100-yard dash in 9.2 seconds.
After completing his master's degree in physical education, Jerome returned to Vancouver to work as a gym instructor. It would prove to be a tremendously short teaching career: Jerome opted instead to join the Canadian Olympic team.
The 1960 Olympic Summer Games in Rome should have been a triumph for Jerome. Instead, they marked the onset of the injuries that would plague his career. During the qualifying heats for the 100-yard dash, a pulled muscle forced Jerome to the sidelines. Two years later, he was back in top shape and ready for victory at the 1962 Commonwealth Games. This time, a torn thigh muscle not only scuttled his chances, but put him, quite literally, out of the running for a year.
Experts predicted that Jerome would never compete again. But true to form, he proved all naysayers wrong by winning a bronze medal in the 100-metre at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
That same year, Jerome shattered two more world records, first as part of the University of Oregon relay team, then completing the indoor 60-yard dash in six seconds even.
A fourth world record followed in 1966, when Jerome finished the 100-yard dash in 9.1 seconds, shaving a tenth of a second off his own previous record. That same year, he finally struck gold at the Commonwealth Games, an achievement he repeated at the 1967 PanAm Games.
Jerome's third and final chance for Olympic gold came in Mexico City in 1968. But the winner set a record of 9.9 seconds in the 100-metre and Jerome ended up in seventh place at 10.1 seconds.
In a sport where most competitors last fewer than five years, Jerome remained at the top of his game for nearly a decade, despite a steady series of career-threatening injuries. Through it all he remained true to the three little words that shaped his personal motto: "Never give up."
After retiring from competition, Jerome joined Sport Canada and travelled the country to help aspiring athletes. In 1971, he was awarded the Order of Canada. The self-effacing superstar rarely spoke of his tireless commitment to helping youngsters strive for excellence.
Canada lost a true hero on December 7, 1982, when Harry Jerome died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 42.
Soon after his death, the Harry Jerome Society was formed to preserve his memory and to continue his benevolent work. A decade later, Jerome's birthplace, Prince Albert, honoured him by unveiling the Harry Jerome Track Complex, built for the 1992 Saskatchewan Summer Games.
In 1997, British Columbia followed suit with construction of The Harry Jerome Sports Centre. Designed to support and celebrate all types of amateur athletics, the centre is a superb testament to a man who brought not only speed, but tremendous style and sensitivity, to Canadian sports.
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