Photo by Adam Rogan
BY ADAM ROGAN
Many Drake Relays competitors — some still in elementary school — are early in their athletic careers. For two hurdlers, however, careers are nearing their ends.
For 33-year-old Bershawn “Batman” Jackson, Drake Relays has been more than just an elite, fan-filled track meet.
“I’ve competed in so many stadiums, I’ve competed all over the world, but nothing quite like Drake Relays,” Jackson said.
Jackson, an American, has been a professional track athlete since 2003 and took gold in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2008 Olympics.
He started his 2017 season with a second-place finish on the Blue Oval on Friday, April 28 at Hy-Vee Night at the Drake Relays. It wasn’t the preferred finish, but he was happy with it. He’d hit the third hurdle and remembers being in third place heading into the final turn.
Injuries hurt his 2012 and 2016 Olympic chances. Des Moines’ track fans don’t seem to have cared.
“The way the fans embrace us; I got a little emotional out there, brought tears to my eyes,” Jackson said. “But I would never forget this track, I will never forget the Blue Oval, and I’ll never forget the great moments I’ve had in this stadium.”
After Friday’s race, he ran around the track, taking a moment with any fan who got his attention. He estimates taking upwards of 60 selfies in just a few minutes.
“It’s a great feeling. I’d have taken 300 selfies if I had to,” he said. “The fans are amazing. It’s cold outside and they’re here. It’s raining — they’re here. It’s snowing — they’ll probably be here also.”
After a winless 2014, Jackson’s first victory in 2015 came at the Relays. In 2016, his first win came at Drake Stadium as well. Between those two wins, his father had passed.
“I know I got a guardian angel over me and I got to continue to strive for greatness,” Jackson said after his 2016 win.
Jackson plans to retire at the end of this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to slow down.
“My ultimate goal this year is to go out a world champion,” he said. “I’m going to go back to the drawing board, see what I did wrong, and capitalize.”
LaRon Bennett has been a coach with the Drake University track and field team since 2012, but he’s been acquainted with the Drake Relays for longer.
He’s been racing competitively for 21 years and run in eight Drake Relays, although he thinks that 2017 might be his last.
“Eight times, I think that’s a good enough number,” he said.
Bennet ran at the Olympic Trials four times, but never made it further than the semifinals. He said his personal best is 48.7, but clocked in at 52.31 on Friday for an eighth place finish.
On top of running and coaching, he’s also a father. Some say that balancing a professional career and family life is problematic. Bennett believes otherwise.
“It’s tough. You’ve got to be able to compartmentalize things,” Bennett said. “… For me I don’t look at it as a disadvantage, but a lot of others can look at it that way. I enjoy it.”
With the end of his own track career eminent, he’s happy with where he’s been, but also what comes next: “raising the next Olympians.”
“I came up short,” he said, “so I’ve got four guys that have the potential to do it.”