A Blazer’s family member to represent USA at The World Games

For one UAB employee, having a nephew compete in The World Games makes Birmingham’s and UAB’s support of the games come full circle.

Stream TWG relativePhoto Credit: Courtney CooperWhen Kirsten Yelvington, operations administrator for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Neurosurgery, relocated to Birmingham in October of 2021, she noticed branding and signage for The World Games displayed across town.

In looking up the range of sports taking place at the 2022 games, she noticed duathlon as one of the represented sports and her interest was piqued: Yelvington’s nephew Bert Harrison, a professional duathlete, was gearing up for competition in Spain to qualify for one of just two Team USA male duathlon spots for The World Games.

“Bert has competed all over the world, so we asked if he was going to participate here at The World Games,” Yelvington recalled. “At the time, we were not sure if he was going to qualify, so I kept The World Games in the back of my mind and thought it would be incredible for him to have the opportunity to race here.”

A love for running and cycling turned into an international career

Residing in Ellijay, Georgia, Harrison became interested in mountain biking and cross country as a child. After running cross country at Berry College, Harrison nursed some injuries through cross training in cycling and found a love for the bike again.

Merging his two athletic passions, Harrison began entering duathlons as a hobby. The duathlon, a sport within the triathlon family, is an athletic event that consists of a 10K running leg, a 40K cycling leg and a final, 5K second running leg. Duathlons are conducted at sprint, standard, middle and long distances.

After winning his first duathlon national championship in 2012, Harrison was hooked.

“I began training pretty frequently and became competitive at duathlon instantly. I started entering national and international races, and in 2018 went professional,” Harrison said.

After winning his age group in two races at the Duathlon World Championship in 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, he went on to compete in Switzerland at the World Championship the following year and officially became a professional duathlete.

An unlikely duathlon Birmingham and UAB tie

TWG Nephew inside 2Photo Credit: Courtney CooperIn early 2021, Harrison was struggling with an injury but had his eyes set on training and competing in Spain in November 2021 for a qualifying position in the 2022 The World Games. He made the connection that the games were being held next door in Birmingham, of all places in the world, and knew that it would be an awesome opportunity to represent his country and family at home, particularly with family like Yelvington in the city.  

“I got healthy enough to make the trip to Spain and eventually clinched my spot as one of just two male duathletes representing our country at The World Games,” Harrison said. “I now have a goal of placing top 10 at The World Games and would be thrilled if I could make that a reality in front of family and friends who will be able to watch me compete.”

On July 16, Harrison will compete at Railroad Park in the elite men’s race and the next day in the mixed relays. His current training regimen clocks in at about 20 hours per week, with 10-15 hours spent on his bike and another five spent running. Familiar with the warm climate of the South, Harrison is training to gear up for his representation in Birmingham in a few weeks.

For Yelvington, seeing UAB’s involvement in The World Games brings everything full circle and continues to add to the building excitement she has for the games to begin.

“I am definitely more engaged and interested in The World Games because of Bert’s participation; but really, how cool is it that Birmingham is hosting athletes from all over the World? I am thrilled that his family and mine will all be together for a mini reunion and have the opportunity to experience the Magic City and my new piece of paradise.”

As the games inch closer, the serendipity of the situation is not lost on Harrison that he often travels the world to compete and now will be given the chance to do so right in his backyard. 

“I am really excited that The World Games are being held in my region — the South — of all places in the world, and I’ll be very proud to be there doing what I love in front of so many people who will be cheering me on,” Harrison said. “I hope that I can represent the United States to the best of my ability.”