Athlete of the Week: Harry Purcell Sets Career Milestone


Track-star Harry Purcell continues to shatter records. 

Mike Keeley

On Saturday, Jan. 13, junior Harry Purcell ran his first race of the 2018 indoor track & field season, breaking his previous record in the 600 meter and briefly claiming the NCAA seasonal best with a time of 1:17:85. “I was over the moon, I didn’t really expect to run that fast,” he said.

“It’s the best shape I’ve been in since I’ve come here,” he said. “I was happy that it was at number one for a week.” However Purcell is looking forward, saying, “that was a good opener for the rest of the season, moving towards NCAAs and Penn Relays.”

Beyond anticipating these postseason meets, Purcell obviously relishes the chance to perform on the big stage.

“I remember I ran in Prague three years ago for the European Indoors, there were 25,000 people packed into an Ice Hockey arena and that was just surreal,” he said. “It was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard.”

“It’s a tighter space, it gets a bit physical as well,” he said, comparing the 200-meter winter indoor track to the traditional 400-meter spring outdoor track. “Everyone loves outdoor, but indoor is fun. It breaks the monotony of the practice in the fall.”

Since moving to America for college after growing up in Ireland, Purcell has noticed differences in life as a student-athlete at Villanova compared to in Dublin.

“I actually didn’t really know much about the American system before I came here,” he said. “[The relationship between] schoolwork and practice was different. The first few months, I was like “how am I supposed to practice with so much schoolwork”. You could sort of get away with it at my old school it wasn’t as intense.”

Purcell noticed that in addition to the differences in the relationship between academics and athletics, there were strictly athletic differences as well.

“Coming over to Villanova as well, I’ve never ran in a team environment, unless it was with the national team,” he explained. “For a few years there was a gap where you were just running for yourself.”

As part of Villanova Track & Field’s “Irish Pipeline,” Purcell made connections to the program well before his commitment, speaking of how vital it was to his career.

“I had previously played team sports before that, I played Gaelic football, rugby, and hurling until I was about 17 and then I started track my junior year,” he said. My sophomore year, I ran a race relatively well off almost no training. I just did it to miss a day of school,” he chuckled.

Luckily for Purcell, he was noticed by a Villanova track & field alumnus who offered to coach him.

“I agreed to drop those other sports for a year to see where it goes,” he explained. “It went well that first year and ever since then, I’ve sort of kept the head down. If it wasn’t for him, or if it wasn’t for that day of school I probably wouldn’t be running.”

Purcell emphasized the importance of the original Irish student-athletes at Villanova had to the establishment of the presence the Wildcats enjoy in the country today, with senior women’s runner Siofra Cleirigh Buttner also having been recruited from Dublin. Purcell also mentioned the men’s program has two more recruits coming in next fall.

“So back in the [fifties] the first Irish guy came here, [Ron Delaney ‘58], and then he was very successful so Irish people were like this is a fantastic opportunity to go and train in a high-performance environment,” he said.

Purcell explained how from there many Irish student-athletes were drawn to the school, including many who have been vital to the continuation of the pipeline, current head coach Marcus O’Sullivan ’84 and the coach who first convinced him to try the sport, Eamonn Coghlan ’76.

“Other schools have this Irish Pipeline, but at Villanova it’s probably the strongest,” he clarified.

Although his student-athlete schedule has prevented him from exploring Philadelphia as much as he would like, Purcell listed some of his favorite things in the city as the Made in America festival and Reading Terminal Market.

“I want to see more of the city,” he stressed.