Goal Driven: Hayfield runner has learned to embrace life after tragedy

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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HAYFIELD — Hayfield senior Jaxon Harberts has already endured an unimaginable tragedy, but he has not let it destroy him or his will to move forward. Instead, he has used it to overcome the odds and serve as inspiration to others.

Harberts’ world was turned upside down in the fall of 2018 when he was in a car crash that took the life of his mother, Rachel, and his sister, Emerson, while leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. Harberts still looks back on that day from time to time, and he uses it to focus on the good things he can do with his life.

“The car accident helped me to value life more. Before that, I just looked at every day as something that happened over and over again. Now, I’ve really gotten to realize how precious this life is,” Harberts said. “I want to keep working for my mom and sister and I want to keep doing better. I’ve done a lot better since the hospital and I want to keep doing better.”

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Harberts has beaten the odds in every step of the way in his recovery as he is now a three-sport athlete at Hayfield, a school he transferred to last year after previously attending Blooming Prairie schools, where his mom was a teacher.

Harberts had grown up playing football and he was on the field after his accident when BP won its first state title in 2018, but he’s adjusted into the life of a runner and he now runs cross country for the Vikings, while also playing basketball in the winter and golf in the spring.

“I used to run with my aunt and she always said I should run, but football was a big thing in Blooming, so I wanted to play football,” Harberts said. “Then the accident happened, and they said I couldn’t play football anymore so I said ‘I guess I’ll do this cross country thing.’ Cross country trains you mentally and physically and it’s helped me in many ways.”

Harberts has risen near the top of Hayfield’s pack as he is one of the Viking’s top runners. That’s just another sign of how hard he has worked and it’s certainly a far cry from where he was at the beginning of a two-year rehabilitation stint after the accident.

“They said in the hospital that I wasn’t going to be able to walk again,” Harberts said. “Within a month and a half in a wheelchair, I was walking again. The goal was to walk again and I conquered that and then the goal was to run and I conquered that. Now it’s a goal to run faster each time.”

Hayfield cross country coach Kelli Schmeling  has seen the work ethic that Harberts put into rehab carry over to the cross country course. She has seen him not just compete, but become a leader on the team.

“He is thoughtful, considerate, he has quiet confidence and is a team player; nobody out works Jaxon,” Schmeling said. “He is very self motivated to be the best he can be and is kind to others. He is a leader.  He puts in the work without complaining and encourages others to be their best.  He is successful but not arrogant, which as a coach is a wonderful combination.”

Harberts rarely misses a team practice or workout and if he does, he makes it up on his own time. Running long distances has given him something to focus on when times are tough, and it’s also shown him how to manage goals.

“In the hospital, my mind helped my body to keep pushing and improve each day through physical therapy and voice therapy. Each day I improved and then I just kept setting little goals. It’s important to set little goals, because eventually they add up to something and that leads to bigger goals,” Harberts said. “It’s crazy how much better you can feel when you set a goal, you’re down there at the starting point and then you finally reach that goal.”

Harberts, who lives in Oslo, initially thought that he would continue going to school in BP, but when he got his driver’s license he realized how far the drive was and he made the decision to go to Hayfield, where the school has embraced him. Early on, he was afraid of the switch, but it didn’t take long before he was enjoying dress up days in the student section and befriending his fellow teammates and classmates.

“I love Blooming and I loved all of the support I received there,” Harberts said. “When I first got to Hayfield it was a whole new scenery and I was lost, I started thinking this was a bad idea. But I got to know people and I’ve gotten a lot of support in Hayfield.”

Harberts is far from finished in his journey. He now has his sights set on helping others recover from physical setbacks as he is intending to go to Winona State University, where he can focus on becoming a physical therapist or an athletic trainer.

“I have found a love for physical exercise,” Harberts said.