By Paul McGrady, Associate Director of Athletics
SNU offensive lineman Justin Harmon is a true overcomer. His story is one of hardship, tragedy and a new path and hope for the future. Justin Harmon has a kind smile for an imposing 6’1” 300 pound young man. He wears number 71 and has started and played solidly for three seasons for SNU’s Crimson Storm. Underneath the helmet is a young man that has an amazing story to tell.
Justin is the fourth son of Sheila Brewer. Today she lives in an extended care medical facility. Justin’s father has been in and out of his life sporadically spending some time in incarceration. When Justin was six years old, his mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Justin became the primary caregiver along with help from his brothers from that time on. He says that his childhood was much different than most. “I had to raise myself and take care of my mom,“ Justin remembers. “The social security/disability check was $656 each month and that was what me, my brother and my mother lived off of. It was a struggle everyday. I spent a lot of time in confusion. I found myself asking ‘Why isn’t everyone else’s life like this? Why does my home life seem different than everybody else I go to school with?’ I had no time to hang out with my friends. My life seemed consumed with caring for my mom by myself. We did the best for her we could.”
There just wasn’t a lot of family support for Justin. His older brothers went to live with his grandparents. They died when Justin was thirteen years old. One of Justin’s brothers earned a scholarship to college on a track scholarship. “It gave me a glimmer of hope for the future.” Neither of Justin’s parents was able to attend college.
When Justin was sixteen, he saved up $500 dollars from working at McDonalds and Academy. He went to an auto auction and purchased a 1988 Pontiac. “I don’t remember exactly what model it was. It was a boat. It ran somehow. I don’t know how it ran. Before the Pontiac I got everywhere on my bicycle,” Justin recalls.
In the midst of trying times, Justin experienced an almost unspeakable trauma. He went to visit at his friend’s home while his friend’s parents were away. He discovered his friend had hung himself in the living room. Justin still can’t speak much of this event. The emotions are still too close to the surface. As a teenager, Justin had just about seen and experienced more than he could handle.
After his senior season of football in high school, Justin began to slip into depression. No colleges were calling offering scholarships. He felt that the path of his life was ending. “I really thought it was the end point in the road. Around Christmas time I took a whole bunch of pills. I woke up in the hospital.” Somehow, Justin survived. “I spent two weeks in a facility. It gave me time to think.”
Looking back now three years later, Justin believes the experience of his attempted suicide was the turning point in his life. “I’ve never really told anyone this before, but after I took the pills I lost consciousness. But I remember seeing a bright light and hearing a whisper. It said ‘not now’ and I woke up.”
A few weeks later Justin received a phone call from former SNU assistant coach Eric Michael. “You want to come to SNU and play football?” coach asked. Justin had sent a DVD of his highlight tape to SNU from his senior season back in November. It was a door opening a new path for Justin.
Success came pretty quickly in football at SNU. “I played in my first game and started my second,” Justin recalls. “The football team is my family. I rely on sports to provide my extended family. I love all my coaches. My team is my brothers, my uncles and my cousins” Justin says with a laugh. Justin is also moving forward in the classroom. He is making good progress toward graduation pursuing a degree in Sports Management. He speaks with great hope about a graduation from SNU in the fall of 2014. He still struggles financially but somehow, “I make things work,” he says with his trademark smile.
The Christian atmosphere at SNU has had a huge impact on Justin. “I’ve never been in a church home. I always had belief in God. I don’t think I would be here at SNU without God. Everything happens for a reason. I guess it was a ‘roadpath’ that He created for me. I have been following it ever since. I always wanted to learn about the Bible. I hadn’t ever read a Bible verse until I came here. I’m coming to a level of understanding on what it means to follow Christ in my life,” he explains.
Justin Harmon’s story leaves us feeling upbeat despite the hardships he has experienced. It makes us think if Justin Harmon can overcome his circumstances and succeed in life anyone can! “Today is the happiest day of my life. I want to be a follower of Christ. I just don’t always exactly know how. There is a mission in life for everyone. He has a path for each person and He wants you to finish it,” Justin proclaims.
Justin Harmon and I shared a prayer and a hug before he headed to his ten o’clock class. I think to myself, “This is why there is a Southern Nazarene University”.
Paul McGrady is in his seventh season as the Associate Athletic Director at Southern Nazarene University. McGrady, a graduate of East Central University, began his coaching career at Southern Nazarene in 1986 when he was named an assistant men's basketball coach. In 1994, McGrady spearheaded the start of the men's and women's cross country programs at SNU. He later served as the head football coach for SNU from 1999-2005. Paul and his wife Dana, have two children; a daughter named Chris Ann, and a son named Garrett.
Southern Nazarene University's mission is to transform lives through higher education in Christ-centered community. As a Christian community of scholars, we model the hospitality of grace, the pursuit of truth and the practice of discipleship, all within the Wesleyan-holiness tradition, as we prepare graduates who THINK with clarity, ACT with integrity and SERVE with purpose.
Wed, October 17, 2012
by Sarah Roberts filed under