BY ADAM ROGAN
For hurdler Bershawn “Batman” Jackson, winning the Men’s 400-meter hurdles on Friday evening at the Drake Relays for the second straight year meant more than just a great start to his 2016 season in pursuit of a return to Olympics for the first time since 2008. Jackson’s father, Jeffrey Felton, suffered a heart attack and passed away suddenly in October 2015 at the age of 53. Jackson returned to competitive track for the first time since at the Drake Relays on Friday night.
“He was my support team. He was my best friend,” Jackson said of his late father. “It was a tough break for me … To come out here and get a victory is bigtime. I was very emotional before the race, knowing my dad wouldn’t be here.”
Jackson’s competitive season was delayed not only because of his father’s death, but also because he’s been dealing with injuries. He didn’t start training until January, something that became apparent to him in the final stretch on Friday.
“At the ninth hurdle, I was dead tired. Didn’t get a great start like I normally do,” Jackson said. “When I got to hurdle number seven … I knew I had to get in the race. And I made a move a little bit too early and I paid for it at nine.”
“But I got a burst energy from somewhere.” Then, grabbing his necklace, he said, “think it came from here.”
About his neck Jackson wears a necklace whose pendant doubles as an urn that holds a portion of his father’s ashes. Jackson pledges to wear the necklace and urn in all of his races, continuing the presence that his father had in life. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Felton was the one who encouraged Jackson to run track as a child and had been traveling internationally with his son since 2005. Although he may have passed away, Felton still has a physical presence in Jackson’s career.
Perhaps Jackson is even more motivated now, refocusing on the qualifying for the Olympics in July’s trials.
Jackson finished in third place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles, but didn’t qualify to compete in London in 2012. He doesn’t want to miss out this year, especially since he is now 32 years old and his chances will be even more limited come 2020. Still, Jackson is confident in what he will be capable of this year.
“(My dad) will be with me on my journey to the Olympic games this year.”
“2012, I fell short,” Jackson said. “I got to redeem myself. This season, right here, 2016, is when I define my Batman legacy.”
To qualify the Rio Olympics this summer, Jackson will surely need to keep improving his time. In the 2008 Olympics, Jackson finished with a time of 48.06. On Friday he was more than a second slower, finishing at 49.30, less than a tenth of a second faster than 2012 Olympic silver medalist Michael Tinsley. But the narrowness of the win doesn’t make starting the season with a win any less motivating for Jackson, especially since it was his first meet of the season.
“I’m impressed with the win; great way to start my season out, lot to work on,” Jackson said. “My ultimate goal is to get past trials.”
Regardless of what may occur in the coming months, Jackson is happy with his current situation, holding to his faith, resilience and determination.
“I had mixed emotions, but one thing about me: I’m a competitor. I’m a warrior,” Jackson said. “I know I got a guardian angel over me and I got to continue to strive for greatness.”