Fathers and daughters bond over many things, but one local pair has grown closer through the power of exercise.
On any given night, you will find Mike Harris working out at Columbus Fit with daughter Cassondra Wilson at his side, a schedule the two have kept up for about a year and a half.
Harris, 69, is retired. Wilson, 42, is CEO of a company that provides corporate training and talent development. The two maintain a schedule of specialty classes they take weeknights at the workout facility, from weights to spinning to core work.
And through the sheen of sweat, the two share a commitment to physical fitness along with a chance to spend time together, carved out from busy schedules each week.
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That time is special because of the genuine enjoyment each has with spending time together.
“I just look forward to it,” Wilson said after Tuesday night’s spin class, in which her father was right beside her, standing on the pedals for the hill climbs. “Dad sets up all my stuff … he’ll share his weights and make sure I’m set up to go.”
“Only because she can’t get here on time,” Harris deadpanned as the two laughed.
“The time Dad and I share — very few people get to have that,” Wilson said. “And I get an occasional high-five from him when the class gets really tough.”
Harris has been an on-and-off member at Columbus Fit since 2003, but decided to recommit to a more regular schedule after hip replacement surgery in July 2015.
Although he initially wondered how he might be able to incorporate more strenuous exercise into his routine after the surgery, he soon found that Columbus Fit’s personal trainer Athena Crump and owner Tom Crump were focused on coming up with a strategy that worked with his rehabilitation, he said.
“We were starting at a similar place,” Wilson said of the father and daughter pairing up to exercise at Columbus Fit. “He was rehabbing (his hip) and I was out of shape.”
As the two started considering classes at the gym, Wilson suggested her father join her and still laughs when remembering his reaction to her invitation to join a glute class.
“I had started this class — and it’s called Big Booty Judy — and I wanted Dad to go with me,” she said. “I told him it focused on legs. And when he asked me what the name of it was, he said, ‘I’m not going,’ “ she said.
“So I told him it was a glute class and he decided it was OK,” she said. The two now do the Wednesday Big Booty Judy class each week, although Wilson still teases her father about his initial reaction.
The ‘no mercy’ point
After months of work, Harris is keeping up with class participants who are much younger, including his daughter, and feels comfortable with everything from weights to cardio.“They tell me what to do and what not to do — they keep an eye on me,” Harris said of the Columbus Fit trainers. “But they’re at the ‘no mercy’ point now,” he said.
As for Wilson, the time spent with her father in the exercise classes has resulted in her slimming down from a size 14 to a size 6, and a newfound enthusiasm for an hour a day spent nearly every day at the gym.
“This is kind of our place now,” she said of Columbus Fit. “They have been very supportive of everything we’re trying to do. It has to become a lifestyle choice.”
In addition to the weeknight fitness sessions, Harris is a founding member of an ongoing noon basketball get-together at First Christian Church in downtown Columbus. The players gather on Tuesday and Thursdays at lunchtime and don’t refer to it as a league — just a group of guys who want to play ball.
As he’s gotten older, Harris said the faces on the court have gotten younger, but that doesn’t bother him.
Harris played high school in Kentucky, and moved on to college basketball at Eastern Kentucky, although he eventually dropped out and joined the military, serving in 1968-69 as a sergeant in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. He was wounded twice and received the Silver Star, Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
“It was a very brief college basketball career,” he said.
He is hanging in with the younger guys on the court along with Steve Johnson, CEO of Johnson-Witkemper Inc., a downtown insurance agency. The two describe themselves as the more senior players in the group.
“We sometimes get called ‘old school,’” Harris said.
“They’ve never seen hook shots,” Johnson said of the younger players.
After the hip replacement surgery, Harris said his doctors were wary about him playing full-on contact basketball, but Harris had an answer.
“I asked them, ‘What good does it do to have a brand new hip and not play basketball?’”
Johnson, who is playing with knees that have been rebuilt and coming off of rotator cuff surgery, admits he and Harris are probably the oldest players on the court during the games, although he points out Harris is older.
“He’s the old guy — I won’t be 69 until this summer,” he said.
Harris will actually turn 70 next week.
Johnson said he’s enjoyed his basketball competition with Harris. And he said Harris’ hip surgery helped Johnson’s game.
“When he had the bad hip, I could drive around him,” Johnson said.
But he acknowledges he has trouble keeping up with Harris, and his high-arc shooting skills, during games.
“You’re always too late when he’s ready to shoot,” Johnson said of Harris’ basketball skills.
And Johnson is even more complimentary of Harris’ work in the community, saying Harris does a lot of good things that few people know about.
Harris, who formerly operated a substance abuse and toxicology testing company, has worked to establish halfway houses and do relief work here and elsewhere, with or without church assistance, Johnson said.
Harris has a mission trip planned to New Orleans, but is delaying it pending the outcome of his granddaughter’s run in the girls state basketball tournament.
Sharing a passion for basketball
Basketball is also a passion he shares with his eight grandchildren, one of whom is Columbus North basketball standout Imani Guy, who is competing in today’s semistate in Richmond.Harris, along with many members of the extended family, will be traveling to the game to watch Imani play.
It was the same situation during foodball season, when the family followed Cameron Wilson, another Harris grandchild, who was on the state championship runner-up Columbus East football team.
Harris and the entire family are proud that Cameron will be playing Division 1 football at Illinois State University and Imani has committed to University of Southern Indiana in Evansville to play basketball.
The grandchildren are known to enjoy pickup basketball games with their grandfather when they have the chance.
Harris has followed Imani’s basketball career throughout the country, following her to AAU competitions and through high school.
“They’ve made some wonderful memories over the years,” said Imani’s mother, Reagan Guy. “They’ve spent a lot of time together.”
Imani Guy said she and her grandfather share a special bond through basketball. Through the years, Harris has taken his granddaughter to the gym at First Christian Church to just shoot around and helped her with her game, she said.
“When we play, he’s pretty good,” she said. “He knows a lot about the sport. He has a good basketball IQ.”
Before every one of her games, Harris sends her a “good luck” text and sometimes adds a suggestion or two about the team that North is playing or what to be aware of on the court.
He’s a pretty good scout, she said.
And there’s no couch surfing when Harris is around, she said, because he wants the grandkids off the couch and active.
“He’s a good influence on us,” she said. “He goes to the gym a lot, probably more than I do.”
But sometimes he does allow some down time and the two also enjoy going out to eat and then watching a movie, as both are movie buffs and tend to like the same kind of films.
Wilson said she’s glad that fitness continues to bring the family’s generations together and increase the closeness they all feel.
“Everybody knows this is what Dad and I do every week,” Wilson said of the workout schedule. “Our families recognize that and are supportive of that.”
An unexpected result of that has been that everyone in the extended Harris family — especially his children and grandchildren — believe that fitness and athleticism is an important part of life, Reagan Guy said.
“I just feel like he has so much discipline and I admire that,” she said of her father. “To have a grandpa who is going hard seven days a week is inspiring to all of us.”
Last Christmas, Reagan gave personalized gym bags to her father and sister to honor their workout regime. The matching bags have their embroidered names on them so they match as they carry them to the gym together.
Harris and Wilson have said it’s time for Reagan to join the family workout schedule, and she said she’s considering joining in on a few classes at Columbus Fit with her dad and sister.
“I don’t think I’m ready to have a gym bag, but I’m ready to try some classes,” she said.
Age: 69 (will celebrate his 70th birthday next week)
Occupation: Retired as co-owner of Toxicology Inc., Columbus
Family: Wife, Brenda; four daughters, Nicole, Cassondra, Reagan and Andrea; son, Brian; stepson, J.D.; eight grandchildren
Attends: The Ridge, Columbus
Military service: Sergeant in 101st Airborne serving in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.