She may be thousands of miles away from home, but Sarah Lee Harris’ heart belongs to South Africa.
At the age of 19, she is South Africa’s best woman water polo player, and it’s evident that the key to her success is her absolute love for the sport and her willingness to whatever it takes to succeed.
Having taken up water polo in Grade 8, Sarah Lee (Seri) is now on a scholarship to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, but admits to missing home terribly, especially Cape Town, which she regards as the best city in the world.
Seri is the sister of Proteas cricketer, Paul Harris, and the similarities in their personalities are incredible.
Both play sport for the love of the game, rather than, for the money. And the two are unashamedly proud South Africans, who always strive to promote our country’s diversity.
On the wall of her room here at home, Sarah has a saying: ‘Champions expect pain; Champions endure pain; Champions never complain.’
In the month we celebrate love, it’s our pleasure to pay tribute to a young woman who, has such an open and beautiful approach to life.
gsport spoke to South Africa’s star women’s water polo player about her love for the sport and her drive to achieve at the highest level.
What is your full name?
Sarah Lee Harris
Date of Birth?
11 November 1987
Absolutely no clue.. Not into that really
Sport you’ve received a scholarship in?
How long have you been participating?
Been playing since grade 8 so that makes this my 7th year.
What made you start?
I swam hectically all through primary school and when I got to High school, waterpolo just seemed like so much more fun.
Tried it out, and loved it from the minute I started.
What keeps you going?
My drive to achieve more keeps me going.
If you have a goal, you then have a reason to keep on working, so my drive to become one of the best players in the world keeps me going.
I have to say that my Western Province team mates keep me going too. I love those girls
What learning institution have you joined?
I am currently studying at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
It is a beautiful school. I am doing a business degree, thinking of majoring in finance, but we will see!!
Does their waterpolo team have a name, do you know of their reputation?
The polo team that I am with now is the Pacific Tigers.
We are currently in our building year, with majority of the team being new, so we don’t expect amazing results this year, but we are working hard together as a team and getting to know each others strengths and weaknesses.
We are really excited to start our season and will work from there. We are creating a new reputation this year, which we can work from for the following season.
You’ve recently been voted South Africa’s best woman waterpolo player, how did this come about?
I didn’t expect it when it first happened, but when it did, I was the happiest person on the planet.
No award or recognition comes without hard work. I am the luckiest person, as I have the best coach back home, Zsolt Desi.
Without him I wouldn’t be where I am now. He worked me so hard and together with his knowledge and my hard work, we were able to play a good tournament and I was fortunate enough to be recognised.
You must realize though, that waterpolo is a team sport. I wouldn’t have received that award without my teammates.
So it came about with three main ingredients; Best coach, great team and a lot of training and extra hours in the pool.
What did it mean to you?
I cannot describe in words what it means to me. I thank God everyday for giving me my talent.
I am just so blessed to be able to love the sport I play. I have a picture of myself with my first trophy and I must admit that I still get goose bumps every time I look at it.
To be recognized as the best player in my country is something that I am really proud of, and very humbled by.
Tell us a little about what waterpolo is, and how it’s played:
Waterpolo is like playing rugby but you are in the water. You can only use one hand and you cannot touch the bottom of the pool. You tread for the whole game.
It is played with 7 girls in the pool at one time, one of whom is in the goals. Your main aim is to get the ball into the other teams goal.
Although that sounds really easy, just think of having to swim, tread, catch and throw a ball and also have girls fighting with you for 32minutes.
All of a sudden it doesn’t sound so easy
Like most sports, there are a lot of tactics involved but what is unique to water polo is that there is a lot of tackling, kicking and scratching that goes on under the water.
If you hold onto the ball, the opponent can do what she likes to you until you let go. It is pretty scary sometimes
A game consists of four 8-minute quarters, and there are two referees involved to make sure that things go well. It is a great game and awesome to watch. I advise all people to try it, as it is a lot of fun.
Do you think you’ll be able to make a professional career out of waterpolo?
To answer that question honestly, I would have to say No! In order to play professional waterpolo I would have to play for another country.
Although that sounds glamorous, I am a proud South African and cannot picture myself singing a different national anthem.
I do not play this game for the money. I wouldn’t say no if South Africa offered, but I would rather play this game because I love it and let the money go to better use. Playing for my country is enough for me. I just love the game so much.
If not, are you sufficiently gifted in a more lucrative sport, or do you have other plans?
Ummm.. My dad had this machine runner back in his day. His records still stand at his High school and I picked up a few running genes from him, but I never liked the training.
I made the USSASU Western Province running team in the 800metres, but then had to choose between polo or running, so never went to the running meet.
I think if I trained hard enough I could maybe make something of it, but that is not my dream.
I love polo and will keep on playing. As regards to my other plans, well I plan to get a degree. If not in the business world, then I would love to become a teacher.
My sister is a grade one teacher and I would love to teach with her one day. But I am still young and so we will see what happens
Have you toured internationally as a sportswoman?
Yes! I have toured. I have been to Australia twice and to Croatia. I am going to be going to Portugal in July for Junior World Champs. Very excited!
What has been your most enjoyable tour, and why?
Hands down, Commonwealth games last year in Perth, Australia. Not only was it such a big tournament, but we had the most amazing, dynamic group of girls, who just got on so well and we played really well considering our lack on international experience.
I also think that I played my best waterpolo at this tournament. I managed to score 15 goals overall, and just played really well and hard against some big opposition Some great memories were made.
What has been your most exotic tour, and why?
Most exotic tour would definitely be Croatia. That place is unbelievably beautiful. Amazing weather and beaches and the people were so friendly and foreign to me.
I loved every minute of that tour. The food was different, culture was different and they speak Croatian, so all in all I thought it was pretty exotic and absolutely amazing!
What has your first impression of the States been?
Well, that is a tough question. I can’t answer that without being biased.
I miss home a lot and I had heard that California was almost as beautiful as Cape Town, but Cape Town, I have now realized, is the most beautiful city in the world.
Other than that, I have had good impressions. The people here have been so kind, giving and friendly and have done everything to make sure that I feel at home here.
Other impressions were that, the Americans love fried food and that my stomach hates it.
All in all I am having a good time here.
Where will you be living, have you had a first taste of your prospective living, sporting and studying conditions?
I am busy living in residential housing. I share with an American girl and have had a taste of what student athletes have to do in order to be the best.
I got my training schedule before I registered for classes and had to make sure that I put my classes around my trainings.
It is a hectic day. I wake up at 5:30, go to early morning swimming. Go to classes from 8 till 3:00, go straight to the gym for weights and then into the pool for two hours of polo after that!!
I am out the pool by 6 and then have the evenings to study and sleep! It is a shock to my system, but is so nice to be so busy.
I have realised though, if you don’t have good time management, you are going to fall hard.
You have to pass your classes in order to be an athlete, so I am working hard in all aspects and whenever I have a free moment I pull out my books or hit the library…
Yip, I am a nerd. I actually do work unlike my brother did in school. Sorry boeta
Who do you regard as female sports icons, and is there a principle that you rely on to keep you going, when the going’s tough?
To be honest, my mom is probably my sports icon. My brother has probably already shared this, but my mom is the best women and mom in the world!!
She has motivated me from when I was a kid and when the going gets tough I just remember her voice in my head “HARRIS’S NEVER GIVE UP!”
When I am struggling or flustered in a game, I just hear her telling me to be calm and to “play my heart out”.
She is my role model and hero and the wisest person I know. She is my icon and my saving grace when things start getting tough and challenging.
What would you say to girls who hope to follow in your footsteps?
Wow, I would tell them to play because they love it.
No one loves something all of the time, but the winners are the ones who persevere through the hard times.
I would tell the girls to stay grounded and to always believe in themselves. Work hard and remember that nothing comes easy, so when you see the opportunity, grab it with two hands and work hard to keep it.
Never give up. A quote that I like to live by: “In order to get today what others don’t have, you must be prepared to do tomorrow what others won’t do.”
Music is my saving grace. I love it so much. Have so many favorites, but will narrow it down to the present.
Dashboard confessional, Breaking Benjamin, Dispatch, Postal services and Blink. So many more, though.
Favourite South African band?
I got hooked onto Lagwagon when I was home and I love plush and my friend Joe Robbins (amazing).
Favourite fashion statement?
Haha, that is funny.. Don’t really have one hey. I don’t even brush my hair.
Just dress how you want to dress and don’t judge other peoples style.
What do you miss most about South Africa when you’re gone?
I miss my boyfriend, Kev, the most, family, friends, the beauty and THE FOOD!!
What makes you most proud to be a South African?
Diversity makes me so proud to be a South African. We are the most diverse nation I have ever come across and we love others for their uniqueness. I love that we love difference and do not frown upon it.
I am proud to be a South African and I boast about our country wherever I go. As far as I am concerned, I live in the best place in the world.