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Ironclad Ambition

Incoming freshman Taylor Harp traces her start in IronKids to joining USC’s triathlon team. The biochemistry major plans to attend medical school and continue her humanitarian efforts.

Incoming USC Dornsife pre-med freshman Taylor Harp, who joins the USC triathlon team, opened the Coffee for a Cause shop at her high school in Colorado benefiting low income students. Photo by Lillian Insalata.
Incoming USC Dornsife pre-med freshman Taylor Harp, who joins the USC triathlon team, opened the Coffee for a Cause shop at her high school in Colorado benefiting low income students. Photo by Lillian Insalata.

Taylor Harp was 9 when she became a triathlete. The incoming USC Dornsife freshman from Highlands Ranch, Colo., got her first taste of triathlons when a friend convinced her to compete in an IronKids event.

It did not go well.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” Harp said. “I ended up crying, hating it. I was so upset when I finished.”

Those feelings pushed Harp to improve. She joined a swim team and began competing in local children’s triathlons. Three years later she was recruited by a national high performance triathlon team based in Parker, Colo. For the past five years, she has traveled from Colorado to Washington to Virginia to compete. In addition to the academic rigors, USC’s triathlon team was a factor in Harp’s decision to apply.

“USC has one of the biggest collegiate triathlon teams — about 150 people,” she said. “That was something that attracted me.”

But Harp has other passions. A great sense of satisfaction, she said, came from opening the nonprofit “Coffee for a Cause” shop at her high school.

Harp renovated a former coffee shop, recruited students as volunteer baristas, and donated all proceeds to low income classmates to buy school lunches or participate on sports teams. Her efforts paid off when Coffee for a Cause café funds were used to buy a cell phone and minutes for a homeless student so employers could contact him.

“That was probably one of my proudest moments — knowing that we helped him get a job so that he could get back on his feet and graduate,” Harp said.

A biochemistry major in the freshman science honors program, Harp plans to go into medicine. Knowing the kind of mental pressure such a career entails, Harp has already tested herself as a member of the Colorado Rescue Patrol, which searches for missing hikers in the wilderness.

“In medicine, you need to be able to handle high-stress situations while keeping your composure,” she noted.

Harp is well-positioned to put her academic and hands-on knowledge into practice at medical school, where she hopes to be in four years. She’s already assisted a professor and graduate student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus with their cancer research. Harp’s findings will be included in the graduate student’s published thesis.

Harp plans to explore various fields pertaining to medicine at USC, including nonprofit management, global economics and foreign policy, and is considering adding Spanish as a second major. But right now, she is simply looking forward to getting started.

“When I first step onto campus I might be a little nervous,” she admitted, “but for now it’s total excitement.”