Bethel cross country runner Josie Harms is grateful for the cross country team and the ability to run.
By Talia Egge | Contributing Writer
SLAYTON, MN – Murray County Central High School’s girls track team needed points. They would need a runner in the two-mile to win the conference meet they hosted.
Senior Clayton Hartle, one of the boy distance runners, had someone in mind.
“Hey, Jose! Jose will run it,” Hartle said.
Hartle was talking about the seventh-grader Josie Harms, who was a 100m dash and 100m hurdles runner.
“I’m signing you up for the two-mile,” Hartle said.
“Are you kidding me? I’ve never ran more than a mile in my life,” Harms said.
She had already been in multiple events that day – including some of the hurdles, sprints, relays and jumps. But saying no is not Josie Harms.
Before the race, Harms downed pizzas with her friends. Her mom, Kirsten Harms, made an agreement that if Harms finished the race, she would buy her peaches – Harms’ favorite. In her mind, running eight laps around the track was worth peaches and points.
Harms stood at the startline ready to race, her hair slicked back in a ponytail, as it was every day. She wore her team’s purple uniform, and gray and pink Nike shoes.
Dick Davidson, the old cross country coach, shot the gun and the runners were off.
“Peaches! Peaches! Come on!” Harms’ teammates yelled at the sidelines, running from one side of the football field to the other to motivate her.
Harms started at the back of the pack, but eventually she began passing runners. Her mom worried Harms may lose all her energy and not be able to finish, but she ended up beating every other girl on her team.
The following year, Harms joined cross country.
If it weren’t for that moment seven years ago, Josie Harms may not be Bethel University’s second fastest female runner going into the Regional Meet and in the top 25 female runners at the MIAC Championships as a sophomore.
Harms said her hometown Slayton is so small, she recalls leaving her family’s car running unattended to grab groceries and the UPS driver using their house code without supervision.
Harms’ mom is a kindergarten teacher, and her dad, Isaac Harms, is a high school social studies teacher.
“My mom taught me my ABCs when I was like 2. I knew how to read by the age of 3. They made [school] a fun thing,” Harms said. “There’s so many things out there that I don’t know. And I can’t wait to learn all of them.”
Naturally, this leaves her schedule booked.
“Every time I think I’m gonna have a chiller schedule, I always end up saying yes to something else,” Harms said. “I look at a day and I see that I have every hour of my day planned with something fun. It’s just like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be awesome!’”
Harms double majors in business finance and accounting, with a political science minor. And then there’s extracurriculars. The 25, a cohort program to empower female students. Financial accounting and honors program teaching assistant. BethelBiz, the business club. Tutor. Theater. Track and Field. Cross country.
All that running around – and that doesn’t even include what’s most important to Harms. She is sure to spend quiet time with Jesus at some point every day. Additionally, she spends her Sunday mornings at Vertical Church in Saint Paul, Thursday nights at Salt Company, and she loves attending chapel every week.
During Harms’ senior year of high school, she struggled with health issues that led to weight loss and prevented her from performing her best and running at the start of her college career. However, Harms was met with the resources and support she needed from Bethel’s athletic trainer, Kimberly Kurtzweg, and head track and field coach, Andrew Rock.
During this whole process, Harms cross-trained by biking in the Wellness Center in place of running. She found this to be a blessing, realizing that an emphasis on rest actually helped her performance. Harms set a 5k personal record of 20:27.8 during her first race back, at the Holiday Inn Express Classic Oct. 9, 2021.
This struggle also revealed the team’s support and care for Harms. Apart from her running abilities, they cared about her as a person. Harms returned the support and still showed up to every practice cheering them on. While Harms could not run, her teammates made her feel like a part of the team, including her at practice and team dinners, encouraging her and checking in on her.
Since being at Bethel and overcoming these health issues, Harms has developed her faith and experienced a heart change. Kirsten explains how she has seen her daughter grow and what she has taken away from her experience.
“[It] kind of made her realize, ‘Okay, you know, it could be gone. And that’s fine if God doesn’t want me to do it anymore. But if He does give me it back, then I want to do it for Him,’” Kirsten said.
Oct. 20, the Bethel cross country team met in the lobby of the Sports and Recreation Center for practice. The day before was a tough workout — two-mile warm up, 3k at goal race pace, 10 minutes of transition running, one hard mile to mimic the last mile of the race and a cool down. This meant today was an easy mileage day to shake out their legs. Everyone socialized, sitting on the benches of the SRC lobby, catching each other up on the last 24 hours since they saw each other.
Sophomore runner Evie Hage planned the playlist she’d play on her speaker during the run. She decided on “hype music that everyone knows,” including “Hot N Cold” by Kate Perry, “Baby” by Justin Bieber, and “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore, and Harms approved.
“All right, are we ready?” Coach Kevin Rengo, cross country coach said. “Let me pray – God, thank you for your grace, thank you for your love, thank you for being who you are to us. God, you are Holy and perfect. Bless the conversations we’re gonna have and bless this time as a team.”
Next came team shoutouts – what they admired about each other, clapping and snapping to celebrate.
“Shoutout to Josie for being really humble after the race and immediately giving the glory to God. That was super cool,” her teammate Lydia Gessner said. A loud clap and snap followed.
Next, the coach ran through all 18 PRs from the weekend before at the Tori Neubauer Invitational meet.
Once shoutouts, PRs and logistics were over, the coach initiated prayer groups to share one thing God is teaching them and to pray for each other.
Harms, Anna Hay and Heather Long grouped together.
“I would say just trusting God in the little things. None of us ever think, ‘Oh no, the world is not gonna spin. God’s not gonna keep it going around the earth,’” Harms shared. “But when it comes to all of a sudden I have four papers and a test this week, [it’s like] am I going to get that done? Am I going to get a bad grade?”
The women bowed their heads to pray.
Before every race, no matter what, the last song playing through Harms’ earphones is “Battle Belongs to the Lord” by Phil Wickham.
“So when I fight, I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God, the battle belongs to You
And every fear I lay at Your feet
I’ll sing through the night
Oh God, the battle belongs to You”
In high school, Harms says she let her anxiety take over and put pressure on herself.
Now, running has become a form of worship.
“I’ve started to realize, ‘Okay, it’s not about me. This is about Jesus,’” Harms said, “[I] just see it as, ‘Wow, thank you that I get to run. I’m not lying in a coma in a hospital bed. Jesus, you gave me my legs to run.’”
Harms feels God’s presence and talks to him as she runs, “At some points, ‘Thank you,’ or at some points, ‘You need to help me right now, I’m dying!’”
When the Bethel cross country team raced in the Tori Neubauer Invitational in West Salem, Wisconsin Oct. 15 at 11:50 a.m., that is exactly what Harms was praying. At the sound of the gun, Harms took off in her blue spikes, navy and white Bethel uniform, signature shell necklace and hair pulled in a bun wearing bib number 2307.
Eighteen Bethel runners set a personal record, including Harms. Finishing in 11th place, Harms set a 6k PR of 22:46.1, taking 57 seconds off her PR set two weeks prior.
Coach Rock greeted Harms at the finish line chute.
“She gave literally everything she had,” Rock said. “And yet in the middle of the exhaustion she came up to me and said, ‘That wasn’t me, I don’t know how that happened. That was God, He’s working through me.’ She immediately deflected any praise towards her that I was going to give her and she deflected it towards her savior.”
Harms recently thanked Clayton Hartle for nudging her to race the two mile in 2016, recognizing she may have missed out on the peaches, PRs and God.