Hurdles was one of the events Notre Dame University’s Jadin O’Brien excelled in when she won the NCAA championship in the five-event pentathlon in March in Albuquerque, New Mexico. O’Brien is a graduate of Divine Savior Holy Angels. (Submitted photos)
Competition has always fueled Jadin O’Brien’s family.
Her father, Kevin O’Brien, played professional football for the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football and the Sacramento Gold Miners of the Canadian Football League and went to training camp with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in the 1990s. That followed a standout career at Bowling Green State University.
Her mother, Leslie O’Brien, competed in track and field at Bowling Green in Ohio.
The competitive fires even spilled over to the O’Brien kitchen in Pewaukee on Sunday mornings after Mass at St. Charles Parish, Hartland.
“My favorite memories from my church experience growing up would be going to Mass with my whole family, and taking up the whole pew because of how big my family is (seven kids),” Jadin said. “After Mass, we would go home and make a wonderful brunch. My family, being as competitive as we are, split into two teams. Dad and the girls (my sister and I) switch off who makes the brunch each Sunday with my mom and the boys. It’s a fun, light-hearted but competitive activity my family and I did every Sunday.”
The competitive mindset that has been instilled in Jadin, a member of the track and field team at Notre Dame University after a fantastic career at Divine Savior Holy Angels, paid off big time in March when she won the NCAA indoor track and field championship in the five-event pentathlon (60-meter hurdles, shot put, long jump, high jump and 800 meters).
“There have been so many wonderful memories throughout by college career, but I would say winning nationals has definitely been one of my favorites,” Jadin said. “I went into the national meet determined to give my best effort to glorify God, and whatever happens, happens. That kept me calm during the whole competition, allowing me to set personal records in three out of the five events, setting a new personal record, a new school record and then a score that put me in the top 10 in U.S. history for the pentathlon (eighth in the world this year). My family is my rock, so having my mom and my brother PJ there to experience it with me was a huge bonus. There is a viral video of my mom’s reaction to me winning nationals.”
The Instagram video, which has more than 15 million views, shows Leslie O’Brien racing through the stands during her daughter’s final event and then the two sharing a moment after Jadin had clinched the national championship.
Buoyed by that success and following a lifelong dream, Jadin’s sights over the next nine months will be on training to qualify for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics in the heptathlon. The heptathlon is two-day competition in seven events (100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin and 800-meter run). The first four events occur on one day and the other three on the next.
“After competing in the Olympic Trials my freshman year, it really fueled my fire for making the Olympics this year and more times in the future,” Jadin said. “Becoming an Olympian has been my driving force since elementary school. Growing up, I loved hearing my dad tell stories about his time in the NFL and CFL. I made a promise to myself at a young age after hearing these stories that I was going to be great one day, and for me, that meant glorifying God through my athletic career and becoming an Olympian.”
After healing her body from a grueling track season that ran from January through August, Jadin will start working on the training plan that she and her coach have established. In addition, there will be mental training, an area where her strong Catholic faith will come in handy.
“My faith plays a big part in that, specifically when it comes to trusting God,” Jadin said. “I’m aware of the talented individuals I will be competing against to make the team, but I view it as a challenge I’m ready to accept. (God) gave me the talent to do it, now I just need to let him work.”
That sounds almost like a paraphrasing of her favorite Scripture verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jadin said her faith has been essential in keeping her focused on her “why” when it comes to athletic competition, especially when dealing with the daily pain, fatigue and physical strain that comes with being a world-class athlete.
“My faith is what keeps me calm before and during big meets,” Jadin said. “Athletics has helped build my faith by putting me in situations where I can put what I believe into practice. Before every track meet, I take some holy water on my thumb and I make the sign of the cross on each location where I will be competing. Athletics has made my faith stronger because I rely on it so much before and while I compete.”
As a championship-caliber athlete who is a devout Catholic, Notre Dame seemed like a natural landing spot for Jadin.
“Coming to Notre Dame has been one of the best decisions of my life,” Jadin said. “I have a special connection to our Blessed Mother, so going to ‘Our Lady’s University’ was very fitting for me. I truly cannot say enough positive things about this university. Not only has it pushed me academically, but athletically and spiritually as well. There is a 6:45 a.m. daily Mass, there is daily confession, numerous prayer groups and faith clubs, a very active Respect Life club (which I am part of), and so many more opportunities to grow in my faith. Notre Dame is proud to be Catholic, and does live by the motto ‘God, Country, Notre Dame.’”
She represents all three with a full heart.