Barrett rises quickly as high jump contender

Barrett rises quickly as high jump contender

Published Jul. 13, 2012 3:46 p.m. ET

TUCSON, Ariz. – If Brigetta Barrett were to title her own story, it would simply be: "When I Can't Became I Can."

Translation: No obstacle is too tall. And when you're a high jumper, that's crucial.

It's not clear when it all happened, but it's very clear her story is far from over. In fact, the 21-year-old is undoubtedly at the beginning of what could be a very long and fruitful journey.

And that's spiritually and athletically.

The University of Arizona junior has done what no other collegiate high jumper has ever done, getting the indoor and outdoor titles in consecutive years. That's four consecutive titles. And that's just the beginning in what looks to be a record-breaking future.

"I see her breaking the world record in the next three to four years," said Sheldon Blockburger, Barrett's coach at UA. "She's definitely going to be the odds-on (favorite) in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil."

First, the 2012 Games in London, where on any given day anything could – might? – happen.

It seems to happen for Barrett all the time. Of course, hard work and persistence has played a part in overcoming an impoverish background to succeed academically and athletically while competing on the world stage.

"It's been about hard work all this time," said Barrett, who is one of more than 20 current or former UA student-athletes to qualify for the Games later this month. "I'm more than appreciative of it. It shows me that there is nothing I cannot do as long as I continue to apply hard work. But hard work is never done. I still have to strive and focus to medal and represent my country in the best way possible."

That's the athlete/person Blockburger and UA head coach Fred Harvey have come to expect.

Gritty. Tough. Determined. Unfazed. And unflappable.

"She believes in what she believes in – and that's herself and God," said Blockburger. "Nothing really concerns her except for acting and jumping high."

And the sky's the limit in each.

Barrett was named a second-team All-America after having a 3.51 grade point average in Theater Arts and is one of three finalists for the Bowerman Award, given to the top female track and field athlete. Barrett is the first student-athlete in school history to be named a finalist for The Bowerman.

"I tried to tell myself I don't care and whatever happens, happens," she said at the time. "Now that I'm a finalist, it truly is an honor and to God be the glory. As a field event athlete, it is kind of hard to see if you can compare with the runners that can do multiple events. I just thank God that they felt like I was talented enough to be a finalist."

The talent is undeniable. She had won 17 consecutive events before finishing second to American record holder Chaunte Lowe at the Olympic trials, clearing a personal-best 6 feet, 7 inches -- the same height as Lowe. No female college athlete has ever jumped as high, but it won't count as a collegiate record because it was not an NCAA sanctioned meet.

The only other women to have jumped as high as Lowe and Barrett this year are a pair of Russians: Anna Chicherova (6-8) and Svetlana Shkolina (6-7).

"Honestly, the goal from the beginning was to finish in the top three," Barrett said at the time. "After that, I wanted to put on a show. All through the year, I didn't set a personal best, but I was really consistent, and that was a big thing for me. So coming (to the Trials), and doing what I did, it's kind of surreal. I'm just happy."

She shows it off the field, too. Blockburger says that when the evergetic Barrett isn't jumping, she's "singing most of the day." She's a free-spirit -- confident, but not too cocky; poised and assured.

"It's turned into less of a dream and more into a reality," she said. "Once you are there it turns into a whole new reality. It's not just the greatness of it, but it's about the appreciation. You have to appreciate it. Just because people work hard doesn't mean they will see the fruits of their labor, but things have worked out. I've been blessed to see the fruits of mine."

There have been many serendipitous moments to get her to this point. One turning point came halfway through high school, when she decided to leave her home in New York to live with a cousin in the Dallas area. She realized she "needed a change" if she were to reach her goals, including a college education.

Harvey first saw her compete in Albuquerque, N.M. It was a meet she wasn't even supposed to participate in. At Arizona, she's literally improved by leaps and bounds while training with Blockburger in a program with a tradition of excellent jumpers, including her predecessor as NCAA champion, Liz Patterson.

"Every moment connected, and everything that led to this was important," she said.

After a so-so freshman year, Barrett's career took off. It hasn't stopped since.

"The U of A is filled with individuals, friends, teammates, coaches, and staff that have breathed life into me since I have arrived in Tucson," she said. "No matter what I am doing from the track to the stage everyone is letting me know that they are behind me 100 percent. At times when I found myself beginning to doubt they were right there breathing life into my dreams."

"She's very coachable," Blockburger said. "You tell her one thing and she it applies it right away."

Blockburger and Barrett are approaching the Olympics as a "nothing-to-lose" situation for the "new kid on the block."

That said, it wouldn't be a surprise if she medals.

As Blockburger puts it, she's always just one jump away "from having the best meet of the year."