'I don't like giving up, I always want to come back stronger'

Nathan Harrison
Nathan Harrison returns to the N200 after suffering a shoulder injury in a crash last year [Pacemaker]

At just 25 years old, Nathan Harrison has already had to overcome many setbacks in his attempts to fulfil his motorcycle racing dreams.

A serious accident during his teenage years left the Manxman with multiple injuries from which it took almost two years to fully recover.

His mother's cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing in May 2023 came as a devastating personal blow to his closely-knit racing family, her death coming just days after Nathan crashed at the North West 200, ruling him out of the Isle of Man TT in his first year as part of the Honda Racing factory team.

Then in March this year, Harrison underwent minor surgery on an injury to his left ankle following a crash during pre-season testing at Andalucia in southern Spain.

Having already achieved a double success in the 2019 Manx Grand Prix and a top-10 finish in the Senior race in his first year competing at the TT in 2022, Harrison is optimistic however that this year will see him realise more of his road racing ambitions.

"Last year didn't go the way I would have liked. It was a proper dream come true at 24 years old to join the Honda Racing team but unfortunately I had an accident at the North West and missed the TT as well," Harrison told BBC Sport NI.

"Everything happens for a reason though, it was for the best and they gave me another shot for 2024. I'm looking forward to it and I'm more ready for it than ever, I'm confident we'll be very strong."

Extensive injuries as a 16-year-old

In 2015, aged 16, Harrison crashed heavily at the Jurby short circuit in the Isle of Man, suffering extensive injuries which saw him lose two years of his fledgling racing career.

"I broke both femurs, my left lower tibia and fibia, left ankle, both my collarbones and my lower back," explained the Onchan rider.

"I also developed Compartments Syndrome which made the pressure in my leg bigger than my heart, so they ended up having to slice my leg open to save it.

"I spent a good few months in Royal Liverpool Hospital, had 40 hours of operations and now my left ankle is fused, so I have a right hand gear change.

"It helped me mature at an early age and even after the crash I was sat looking for parts to repair the bike.

"The goal was always to get back on a motorbike and it just goes to show what can happen if you don't give up on your dreams and keep focused."

Honda Racing rider Nathan Harrison
Nathan Harrison on board his Honda Racing Superbike during practice for the 2023 North West 200 [Pacemaker]

Before making a return to racing, the teenage Harrison's initial target was to get out of hospital in time to be able to watch the TT just months after his accident.

"One of my motivations was to get out of hospital to watch the TT. My dad converted the back of our van and he got me up in my wheelchair and we did it. I got to watch the racing.

"You have to keep yourself focused mentally and you have to keep having goals. That's basically how I got through it, as well as the help of family and friends.

"When I suffer a setback I always want to come back stronger and I'm aiming to do that this year.

"I don't like giving up and racing bikes has been my dream throughout my life, especially the TT. A long term goal is to win a TT in the future."

Devastating cancer diagnosis

As he began to recover full fitness, Nathan's family received the terrible news that his mum Jane had been diagnosed with life threatening cancer.

In the midst of countless visits to Nobles Hospital in the Isle of Man, numerous trips to England and also to Spain for specialist treatment, the prospect of seeing her son race over the Mountain Course gave his mum something to fight for and use as motivation in those difficult days for the family.

That dream was realised as Nathan secured that double success at the MGP in 2019 and three years later he finished all five races he competed in at TT 2022, lapping at over 128 mph.

Sadly, his mum passed away on 19 May 2023, a matter of days after Nathan sustained a broken collarbone in a crash at Church Corner in the first Superstock race at the North West.

"I was in a good battle with James Hillier, John McGuinness and Michael Rutter. I got knocked out so I don't know what happened really but I've seen the footage of me high-siding out of Church Corner," explained Nathan.

"My goal was still to try and make the TT but Havier [Beltran, Honda Racing team manager] and my dad wouldn't let me do it.

"They didn't say it straight away because they wanted to keep me going but they knew I wasn't going to make the TT. They only told me a few days before the team were due to travel.

"When I look back my dad and Havier were right, from a mental point of view I wouldn't have been right.

"As much as I would have told myself I was right, I was ok, when you're a close racing family like we were - me, my mum, my dad [Dean], my brother Glenn, a former TT racer himself - you have to have proper time to grieve rather than just going ahead.

"If it wasn't for the support of my mum and dad, I wouldn't be where I am today. We were a proper racing family outfit. They put thousands of pounds into my racing over the years."

Honda Racing rider Nathan Harrison
Nathan Harrison pictured with family and friends after winning the Senior Manx Grand Prix in 2019 [Pacemaker]

Harrison's next visit to the Triangle circuit on the north coast of Northern Ireland came in March for a pre-event media and 'Meet the Fans' evening, an opportunity he took to banish the memories of last year's crash.

"I did a lap round in the car to get rid of all the demons from last year, the bad memories," he revealed.

"I went past the Causeway Hospital, went past Church Corner, the places I associated with my crash, and now I'm coming back with a positive attitude and am ready to go again.

"I have some targets in my head but having missed last year everyone has got a head start on me."

His subsequent crash in Spain saw hum suffer a sprain on the same ankle that he had reconstructive surgery on but it was decided that because of the previous damage and work done on that ankle that he should have surgery. Thankfully his recovery has been swift and the Manxman is fit to take his place on the grid at this week's North West.

Honda Racing rider Nathan Harrison
Nathan Harrison leads Honda team-mate John McGuinness at the North West 200 [Pacemaker]