One leg in front of the other. Body shaking. Heart racing. The finish line creeping closer. 15 years old and 165th in the nation for the 300 meter hurdles.
Danayja Harper is a freshman and runs the 300 meter and 400 meter hurdles, the open 400 meters and the 4×400 meter relay. In her age group she was 12th in the nation last summer and fourth in the state for the 400 meter hurdles.
“She can run anything you put her in,” girls track coach Josh Washington said. “She’s very adaptable and can adjust to any event.”
On March 19, Harper broke the school record, previously set in 2016, for the 300 meter hurdles in 45.11.
“It was very unexpected,” Harper said. “It reassured me that I am capable of doing great things…it made me realize how much people believe in me.”
Harper started running track in seventh grade, and currently runs summer track with Track Georgia, along with high school track. Harper credits her competitiveness to her home life.
“I’m always competitive,” Harper said. “Everybody in my family is athletic. So, it’s just in me.”
In August, Harper qualified for the 2021 Junior Olympics.
“You compete with the highest runners in the nation,” Harper said. “It’s a week-long meet, and you compete each day.”
Harper’s high school season has been rewarding. She ranked third in Class 5A in the 300 hurdles.
“Everything that I’ve been doing this past year is finally paying off,” Harper said. “It’s reminding me why I sacrificed a lot during the summer and during the school year.”
Harper admits that pressure she faces from coaches and friends is intense, but not as difficult as the pressure she puts on herself.
“I hold myself to a lot of high expectations because I know how capable I am to being successful in track,” Harper said. “When I don’t do what I expect myself to do, I don’t take it lightly.”
Even as a freshman, Harper has become a role model for the track team.
“They see how she warms up,” Washington said. “They see her approach to just the sport in general, and it’s not so much her athletic ability that they look up to; it’s just her mindset.”
Harper is known for her positive attitude towards the sport and to her teammates.
“She always has something wonderful to say about her teammates and she inspires everybody and livens everyone up,” Washington said. “I appreciate that from a head coaching perspective.”
Freshman Zhai Holmes, Harper’s friend and teammate, appreciates her competitiveness and work ethic.
“We are in the same age group; so, we will always be battling on the track,” Holmes said. “Despite our friendship, she pushes me to be great, even if I am her competition.”
Harper said she runs track because she finds a sense of solitude in running and competing.
“It clears my mind,” Harper said. “When I run I don’t think about anything at all, it’s therapeutic for me.”
Harper has set high expectations for herself to end this season.
“I want to get top 10 in the state,” Harper said. “I have a good shot. I just have to stay consistent and keep a good mental perspective.”
Washington supports Harper’s ambitions.
“She’s going to be a state champ by the end of the year,” Washington said. “She’s going to be a state champ her sophomore year, her junior year, and her senior year.”