Ryan Harrison swims for Tennessee, Ireland and Hendee

Harrison dedicating career to late UT assistant Hendee

Ryan  Harrison

Ryan Harrison

UT swimmer Ryan Harrison

Photo by J. Miles Cary

UT swimmer Ryan Harrison

Photo with no caption

Photo by J. Miles Cary

The biggest year of Ryan Harrison's swimming life begins today.

Where it leads, well, just understand that the bar is set high.

"I want to be SEC champion and NCAA champion,'' Harrison said this week. And that's not all.

The Summer Olympics in London would be a fine finish for an Irish lad.

Harrison said he is the top freestyler in Ireland at the moment. But for the next few months what counts is being the top freestyler at UT, which begins its season today.

Indiana and Kentucky visit for a three-way meet at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center at 12:45 p.m.

While Harrison, a junior from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, has both conference, intercollegiate and international goals, there is a common thread of inspiration uniting them all.

That's Coach Joe.

Joe Hendee, the longtime UT assistant coach, died last April of brain cancer. It was an end that the team knew was coming as it toiled through an emotional season.

Harrison's crowning moment came at the SEC meet in February, when he upset favorite and eventual NCAA champion Brett Fraser of Florida to win the 200 freestyle title.

"You have key moments you suspect you'll never forget,'' said UT coach John Trembley. "Ryan gave me one of those moments last year.''

As soon as Harrison finished out-kicking Fraser to win the 200, he popped out of the University of Florida pool and pulled off the UT swimcap with "Harrison" on it.

Underneath was a Coach Joe cap with Hendee's name on it.

"He came over and hugged me,'' Trembley said, "and we're in tears, and he whispered in my ear, 'That was for Joe.' ''

All future swimming triumphs also will be, in part, for Coach Joe. The cap he wore in the SEC win has a home in Harrison's locker.

"I've never met a better man in my life,'' Harrison said. "He was so

selfless. He did everything and asked for nothing.

"He was like a father figure for me. ... Everything that I do in my swim career is for him.''

Hendee was instrumental in recruiting Harrison to UT from Northern Ireland. To hear Trembley tell it, he was instrumental in everything.

Harrison hadn't counted on coming to the States to college. He was "over the moon" when Trembley called offering a recruiting visit.

From UT's part, Harrison came recommended by two previous Irish swimmers who had flourished as Vols, Barry Murphy and Andrew Bree.

"If they're here doing well, something must be working,'' Harrison said.

It's been working for him, too. Strictly a freestyler, Harrison excels in the 200, is improving in other distances and is a big part of relays.

"He's really had a dream progression,'' Trembley said.

The relays are one reason Trembley anticipates a strong season from the Vols, who finished third in the SEC and 12th at the NCAA meet last year.

"All of our relays are good and that's huge for championship formats like the NCAA,'' Trembley said.

"And our diving is good because a lot of teams don't really fund diving to the degree we do. With 9.9 scholarships and 21 events you have to pick and choose.''

A record-holder both at UT and in Ireland, Harrison calls the SEC win last year his best day as a swimmer — and that includes days he lined up in the same pool with the likes of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

But Harrison anticipates better days yet to come. In spirit, Coach Joe will be prodding him on.

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Comments » 1

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

Awesome.... Keep it up!!! GBO

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