CROSS LANES, W.Va. -- Steve Harrison had been out of public office for about a year when he decided it was time to start throwing his weight around.
Better make that "weights" -- as in discus and shot put.
Before he resumed his acquaintanceship with the track and field throwing events in 2007, the five-term Republican Kanawha County delegate and two-term state senator last threw the discus and shot competitively in 1986, as a freshman at Brown University.
But after Harrison opted not to run for reelection when his Senate term expired in 2006, he found he had a little extra time on his hands. While attending a conference in Huntington, he picked up a copy of Track & Field News at a bookstore, and read an article about the USA Masters Track & Field organization, which tabulates rankings for amateur athletes age 30 and up.
He gave the idea of taking up the two throwing events again some thought, and the more he thought about it, the better he liked it.
"Two things in life that I've really enjoyed are sports and serving in the Legislature," Harrison said. "Sports are a lot less stressful and controversial, but I had no idea I'd still be taking part in them this long."
He acquired a shot and a discus, and began throwing them around his yard, then at area middle school track infields.
Eventually, he worked up the nerve to compete in the 2007 USA Masters National Championship meet in Orono, Maine. "I got fifth in the discus in the 40-45 age division," Harrison said, "and I got hooked."
Not long after the Orono meet, Sissonville chiropractor and former collegiate pole-vault standout Steve Thaxton told Harrison that most colleges in the region open their track and field meets to non-collegiate competitors. After competing at Marietta (Ohio) College in his first collegiate meet as a 40-something "open" athlete, he became a familiar, though somewhat more weathered, face on the region's track and field circuit.
"I'm usually the only old guy there," said Harrison, who is 45. "I graduated from college before most of them were born. The college guys treat you like any other thrower, but sometimes they will ask about your age."
At first, Harrison said, his goal for competing at collegiate meets was simply to not finish last. But as it turned out, "I usually finish in the top half," he said. "It's gone pretty well for me."
In fact, at the York College Relays in Pennsylvania last spring, Harrison took first place in the discus event. At the Ohio University Open meet in 2010, his fifth-place overall finish in the discus accounted for his best-ever master's throw of 39.59 meters. That toss earned him All-American status in the USA Masters program by surpassing the organization's 39.5-meter qualifying standard for his age group.
"My best throw at Brown was about two feet better," said Harrison, who also competed in the throwing events, plus hurdles, as a member of Sissonville High School's track team. "I'd love to be able to surpass that mark before I go into permanent decline."
So far this season, Harrison is ranked fourth in the shot put and fifth in the discus, in national USA Masters outdoor standings for athletes 45 to 50. He finished 22nd in last year's national master's rankings in the discus, and 25th in the shot put. His best season-long outdoor season was in 2010, when he finished the year ranked 11th in the nation in master's standings in his age group.
Last Saturday, at Cedarville University's Yellow Jacket Collegiate Outdoor Open in Ohio, he made the finals in the discus event, placing eighth out of 20 discus throwers overall. He also racked up his best shot put distance of the outdoor season, finishing 11th of 21 competitors in that event.
Harrison and his wife, Kristen, travel to collegiate meets virtually every Saturday from late February through the middle of May, and then hit the less-busy regional Masters meet circuit, where he competes with athletes his own age. Since 2007, track and field competitions have brought the Cross Lanes couple to college campuses in 17 states.
"We try to make a weekend out of each meet," said Kristen Harrison. "We get to see a lot of places we may not have otherwise seen."
When competing, Harrison usually wears a shirt bearing the logo of Brown University, where football was his primary sport. He was a member of the Ivy League Senior All Stars in the 1989 Epson Ivy Bowl, and was named a District I Academic All-American the same year.
When his day job as a banker comes to an end, Harrison generally alternates two evenings a week practicing his throwing skills and two lifting weights on a bench at his home. Discus practice often takes places on the infield of the Andrew Jackson Middle School track, where Kristen Harrison gets a workout of her own retrieving the two-kilo discs for her husband.
"To preserve my aging arm for the discus, I don't practice shot put much in the spring," Harrison said. During the earlier indoor track and field season, he practices throwing the shot put on a paved section of the Cross Lanes Elementary School playground, using a soft-shell indoor shot.
"Before I started using the indoor shot put, I really tore up our backyard," he said.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.