Michael Hartfield, who graduated in June, holds Ohio State’s school record in the long jump. Robert Bennett tells his remarkable tale of perseverance.
In the spring of 2013, Michael Hartfield graduated from The Ohio State University (OSU) with two degrees in Sociology and Criminology. While at OSU, he set the school outdoor-record in the long jump (8.15m/26-9.00) breaking a 77-year old record held by Jesse Owens, who is most notable for his four gold medal effort at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games. This feat did not come without obstacles. As Hartfield attests, “My background consists of all sorts of ups and downs. I have been very blessed to have been a graduate of The Ohio State University as well as have had such an amazing athletic career as well. However, the shortcomings and hardships I have faced on the road to where I am now tend to be the most memorable.”
Michael Hartfield was born to Marsha McIntosh and Tyrell Hartfield on March 29, 1990. He claims Manchester, Connecticut as his home. Even after moving six times during his middle and high school years, he always remained in Manchester schools despite lacking a stable home, as he moved constantly between his parents’ and grandparents’ homes. Hartfield noted, “My parents were young so at times when my mom struggled, I stayed with my grandparents. When my dad went to college (Quinnipiac University) to play basketball, I moved back with my mom but did not live there on a consistent basis. In all, I lived in at least fifteen different places by the time I graduated from high school.”
At the age of twelve, Hartfield received what he remembers as the worst news a child could hear. His mom informed him that the man who he knew as his father was not his “real” dad. He remembers, “As a young boy, I looked up to my father as my hero, my everything. I never aspired to be like the make-believe superheroes on television because in my opinion my dad was the real thing. That news ripped through me. Today, that pain is still fresh as if it happened yesterday. Being the great person that he was, my dad did not let that affect his relationship with me as hard as that had to have been. In his eyes, I was his son and to me he was my dad and to this day I am grateful to have had him in my life. He taught me how to be a real man and instilled in me that competitive nature both in and out of the sports realm. Over time I built a relationship with my biological father, yet the relationship I have with him does not compare to the one I had with my dad who was there from day one.”
While a male influence played an instrumental role in his early development, athletic competition was also pivotal for the Manchester native. While his parents emphasized the importance of school, as he puts it, “I was not the least bit interested.” However, he claims that his mediocre grades were never due to his lack of understanding of the work, but due to a lack of effort. He took this lackadaisical ethic with his schoolwork into high school despite having a stellar high school record in track and field. His senior year, Hartfield was awarded an athletic scholarship from the University of Tennessee, but because he did not meet the minimum academic qualifications set by the NCAA, he was left to enroll at Rend Lake College, a junior college, in Ina, Illinois.
In his first year at junior college, Hartfield was depressed after “being isolated in the rural Midwest, while my friends had the time of their lives at ‘real’ colleges.” With the encouragement of his parents, he not only excelled in his athletics, but also focused more on his academic courses. With this newfound drive for excellence, he earned the highest grades in his life, while becoming Junior College National Champion in the long jump, earning his associates degree, and receiving a full scholarship to The Ohio State University, where he enrolled in the summer of 2011.
Within his first two weeks of summer school, Michael Hartfield received a call that his father had suddenly died. For him, “The fact that I would no longer be able to pick up the phone to get advice from him, or tell him something exciting and hear how proud he was of me brings up a wealth of emotions.” As a result of the devastating news, he dropped his courses and returned to Connecticut for a few months. Unsure of himself and his life purpose he turned to family for support. He was reminded countless times by family and close friends of how excited and proud his dad was of his accomplishments and the fact he was enrolled at Ohio State. These messages provided him the needed support he thought he lost with the passing of his father. Hartfield used his family as an impetus to get back to school and back on the track.
While the following year was difficult, Michael Hartfield managed to earn his highest GPA in his post-secondary career, while also earning his first “A.” In the athletic realm, he had one of the most successful seasons in Ohio State track and field history. As Hartfield explains, “I kept my dad with me in spirit but the pain was fresh from not being able to physically talk to him and share all of my accomplishments with him. All I wanted to do was make my dad proud. I never questioned God as I believed everything happens for a reason. I am positive that I am stronger and a more dedicated person because of him and his legacy.”
With the passing of his dad, Hartfield grew closer to his mom. Growing up in Connecticut, he and his mother had many conflicts with each other, which he attributes to his mother’s youthfulness and having three kids while “trying to figure things out herself.” In all, he loves the relationship they have built since 2011. He remarked “I love hearing the excitement in her voice when I call her with good news about school, track or whatever else. The fact that I was making my mom proud was now my fuel. One of the greatest moments I can remember was this past season when I got news I was ranked #1 in the world. When I told her, she texted me back saying she cried when she got the news. That was one of the greatest moments I shared with her.”
In January of 2013, Hartfield filed his paperwork for graduation as he prepared to finish his last semester at OSU. This was to be a big moment in his life, one he looked forward to sharing with his mother, but, in February, she suffered a severe stroke.
Hartfield discovered the news after getting off a plane in New Mexico with his teammates while heading to a meet. For him, “To lose one parent was one thing, but to lose the other one after so much had been going right did not seem fair. I had all those familiar feelings of when I lost my dad coming back.” Despite the health concerns surrounding his mother, Hartfield continued to pursue his academic and athletic goals.
The following month on March 29, his birthday, Michael Hartfield accomplished the greatest highlight of his OSU career when he broke Jesse Owens’ seventy-seven year old school record in the long jump. He stated, “With him being one of the greatest athletes of all time. . . to be able to say that I broke one of his records which actually stood as a world record at one time, really was an amazing feeling.” It was the kind of feat that made his family proud.
On May 5, 2013 Michael Hartfield graduated from The Ohio State University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Sociology and Criminology. Hartfield notes, “I am proud to say that I am a graduate of The Ohio State University, the new school record holder in the long jump, and now an international professional track athlete. I do not know how I have gotten this far, but as a young man I can say that having the support of family and friends, in addition to much prayer really does make the difference.”
Thankfully, his mom is making progress towards rehabilitation. As of October, she was able to say a few words and write “call the kids” so Hartfield and his siblings are very thankful. He acknowledges, “Throughout all the things that have happened to me over the years that have seemed like walls blocking me from going further, I somehow find the strength to keep going.”
Over his collegiate career at The Ohio State University, Michael achieved numerous accolades:
• 2013 NCAA bronze medalist
• 2013 USA indoor Silver medalist
• Ranked top 15 in the world 2013 Indoor Season
• 4x NCAA All American
• 1x USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region Athlete Of The Year
• 1x Big Ten Athlete of the Year
• 2x Big Ten Athlete of the Championships
• 5x Big Ten Conference Champion
• 7x All-Big Ten Selection
• 4x Big Ten Athlete of the Week
• 2010 NJCAA National Champion
• 3x NJCAA All American
Since graduation, Michael Hartfield has competed at the USA Championships (where he missed the world team by one centimeter), competed in France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Croatia, and the U.K. These opportunities have allowed him to get an understanding of the professional circuit. He will spend the next year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California to pursue his goal of competing in the Olympics. His time there will be focused on training and getting proper nutrition.
Michael Hartfield’s journey teaches us about working through setbacks. He had ample opportunity to give up on himself, but he chose to work through his trials and tribulations. He went to junior college, improved his grades while continuing to compete in track, and when he was faced with the death of his father, he went home to grieve. Yet, he returned to The Ohio State University and excelled academically and athletically. Despite the many roadblocks, Michael Hartfield was undeterred; he learned how to persevere.
Photo: Image of Sport
Read more in our series on Athletes Overcoming Obstacles.