Skip to main content

Jake Patton '23: Hurdling Over Life's Obstacles

Share on:

Posted on Thursday, July 13, 2023

Editor’s Note: This story appears in the June 2023 edition of Westminster Magazine, Westminster College’s alumni magazine, and was written prior to the completion of the spring track and field season. On May 27, Patton registered a fifth-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles final at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

While in the athletic arena it’s apropos Jacob Patton ’23 competes in the hurdles, for that endeavor serves as a metaphor: He has been hurdling a health issue his entire life.

A Westminster College senior standout, Patton earned All-American honors at last spring’s NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships as part of the Titans’ 4x1 relay team. And this season, he has been working on earning additional honors in the 400-meter hurdles.

But Patton competes—and lives his daily life—dealing with what, for some, could be a debilitating deterrent.

Cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder that causes severe damage to the body’s lungs, digestive system and other organs.

“For me to just sit here and breathe, compared with you sitting there and breathing, it takes three times as much energy,” Patton said. “It would be like if you had a cold every day. That’s what it’s like for me. I usually get bronchitis three or four times a year, but my bronchitis would be your pneumonia—double what you would have. And my pneumonia, that would be fatal.”

After his older brother James was diagnosed with CF on the day he was born, Patton’s parents felt compelled to trust their instincts. His mother was tested while Patton was still in his mother’s womb—and he, too, was diagnosed with CF.

Patton’s parents, Sherry and the late Robert Patton, were determined their children would lead lives as normally and actively as possible, free of restrictions. That included athletics.

“A lot of parents say, ‘Our kid has CF, they shouldn’t do sports.’ But what they don’t realize is that sports and exercise are probably the best treatment you could ever have,” said the 23-year-old.

“From a young age my parents would put me into baseball, basketball, all of that. I just really loved it,” Patton said.

“I like athletics because athletics helps me,” he said. “When I was younger I realized that I got over bronchitis quicker if I would run.”

Recalling his youth growing up on a farm in Harrisville, Pa., Patton was prepared for those who doubted his desire.

“If someone said, ‘You can’t do this,’ I just said, ‘I’m still going to push through.’”

Patton played baseball and basketball as a youngster, but began competing in cross country in seventh grade. At Moniteau High School, his focus began shifting toward track and field. He made it to districts his freshman year and found his love for track—especially hurdles.

“It was just the idea of overcoming each obstacle,” Patton said. “There is so much technique that goes into it.”

Patton kept working on his technique and ultimately became a two-time PIAA Championships qualifier. He competed in both the high and intermediate hurdles and the 4x4 relay as a junior, then placed as a senior.

After high school, he enrolled at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., but transferred to Westminster during his junior year.

“Probably one of the best decisions of my life—definitely,” Patton said.

At Westminster he has thrived. Last spring at The Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio, he was part of the Titan quartet— also including Amon Sams ’22, Ryan Beard ’22 and Shamar Love ’23—that stood seventh in the 4x100-meter relay at the NCAA Division III Championships.

He also produced a PAC and Westminster program record (53.28) in the 400-meter hurdles.

This year, he’s been putting more emphasis on his hurdling. At the PAC Indoor Track & Field Championships, he claimed the title in the 60-meter hurdles for the second-straight year, tying his school-record time of 8.39 seconds.

Patton earned individual first-place finishes in the 110-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles at this spring’s PAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships, where he was also named the Most Outstanding Performer for the secondstraight year. He was also named male Athlete of the Year at Westminster’s 18th annual WESPY (Westminster Exceptional Sports Performances of the Year) Awards.

“The 400-meter hurdles record Jake broke last year was my 400-meter hurdle record from 1994,” said Tim McNeil ’96, Patton’s mentor and head coach for track and field and cross country. “I was so proud of him and selfishly proud that I still get to be a small part of that record.”

“Jake is an inspirational leader, but not at all because of his cystic fibrosis,” McNeil said. “He is a leader and role model because he does the little things to be better. He shows up every day, he outworks everyone. That’s why he’s our leader.”

“I would say he is an inspiration, but that he doesn’t want that spotlight,” echoes Professor of Chemistry Dr. Helen Boylan ’95, who has worked closely with Patton, a chemistry major and dean’s list student. “He just wants to be like every other college student. He doesn’t wear his CF as a badge of honor. He just rides with the challenges that he faces and, frankly, doesn’t let it get him down.”

Selected as a Summer Research Fellow last year, he collaborated with Boylan on the research project “Determination of Phosphorus Concentration in a Lake and Surrounding Fields and Streams.”

“We worked together over the summer and through the fall. I spent a lot of time with Jake hands-on—in the lab, in the field, on Brittain Lake in canoes,” said Boylan, who also serves as director of Westminster’s Center for the Environment. “There is nothing about him that would ever suggest that something was holding him back in any way.”

“He fully embraces life in all capacities—sports, academics and research, the relationships he’s developed,” she said. “Jake is always about positivity. Even if his research isn’t going well, he doesn’t get him down. He just keeps at it.”

“Honestly, the thing is,” Patton said, “no matter what in life pops up in front of you, true failure is when you stop trying. You might as well just keep going, put your head down and keep driving.”

Read Westminster Magazine online at Issuu here.

Photos from top: Jake Patton hurdling; 2023 Athletes of the Year Emma Rudolph ’24 and Patton; Patton with graduate student Ryan Beard '22 at the 2023 PAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships; Patton pulling sediment samples from Brittain Lake with Dr. Helen Boylan.