Roberts' lowest point drove her to new heights

Ariel Roberts was devastated.

The 2007 Division 1 state meet was supposed to be where the Pioneer (Ann Arbor, Mich.) standout would announce her arrival on the Michigan track scene. Instead, there she was finishing last in the 300-meter hurdles with tears streaming down her face.

Then a sophomore, she had qualified for state by placing first in the high jump and long jump and fourth in the 300 hurdles at the regional meet. So naturally, the expectations were high for Roberts to shine in multiple events on the big stage.

Roberts got off to a promising start at the meet by capturing the high jump title with a leap of 5 feet, 7 inches, a mark that tied the Division 1 state meet record. Things went downhill from there, however, starting with the long jump, in which she placed seventh.

Any thoughts of redemption in the 300 hurdles were quickly dashed when Roberts tripped over the first hurdle. Though the fall was tough to handle when it happened, it ended up being a blessing in
disguise. It instantly awoke a certain determination in Roberts, who realized she needed to make numerous changes on and off the track to reach the level of success she desired.

"It was an eye-opener," she says.

A year later, Roberts earned her second consecutive state title in the high jump with a state-record leap of 5-9, and she finished second in the long jump. But more important, she added a state crown in the
300 hurdles.

The 2008 Gatorade State Girls' Track & Field Athlete of the Year, Roberts is now a
senior at Pioneer and is considered one of the nation's top all-around track performers. Next year she'll head to North Carolina, where she'll likely compete in the heptathlon.

Clearly, Roberts' transformation was a success.

Pioneer assistant track coach Crystal Westfield, who oversees the field competitors for the team, noticed a change in Roberts right after her fall in the hurdles as a sophomore. Instead of remaining on the ground feeling sorry for herself, Roberts picked herself up and finished the race. That's why Westfield showed the video of Roberts falling at the team banquet.

"For someone that young to have the motivation to finish and show she wasn't embarrassed showed a lot of courage and maturity," Westfield says. "She could have just laid there."

Longtime Pioneer head track coach Bryan Westfield, Crystal's father, also saw a difference in Roberts. After the race, he and Roberts stopped to eat on the way home and she told her coach she needed his help.

"All of a sudden, it was like she grew up," Bryan Westfield says. "It was a big awakening."

And it wasn't only an awakening in track. Besides wanting to improve in the hurdles and jumps, Roberts thought she needed to become a better leader, a better student and an overall
better person. It wasn't that she was bad in any of those areas. She just thought if she could improve in track, she could do so in all facets of her life.

Ariel Roberts Favorites

  • TV Show: "Charmed"

  • Movie: "Baby Geniuses"
  • Actor: Taye Diggs

  • Actress: Sanaa Lathan

So the summer following her sophomore year, Roberts worked two days a week with
disadvantaged kids at the Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor.

"It was another part of maturing," she says. "It was my first real job and it helped me realize responsibility. I love kids, so I took it real serious."

During the fall of her junior year, Roberts, who was a two-time captain for the girls' basketball team, began tutoring members of the basketball and track teams. She also made family a priority, spending more time with her parents, La'Shaw and Elaine, and her younger sisters, Courtney and Rachel.

"I saw a complete turnaround," Bryan Westfield says.

By making positive changes in all aspects of her life, Roberts gained confidence that carried over to the track. During the indoor season last year, she won the high jump at the Michigan Indoor Track Series state meet and tied for fifth in the same event at the Nike Indoor Nationals.

By the outdoor season, she was poised for stardom and didn't disappoint. Her two individual state titles helped the Pioneers win their third consecutive team crown. She then followed her performance at state by placing third in the high jump at the USATF Youth Outdoor Championships.

Roberts achieved her goal of redemption at state, but she didn't become complacent. Instead, she decided to embark on a new endeavor: competing in the pentathlon and heptathlon, events contested at national meets but not during the Michigan high school season.

Roberts took part in her first pentathlon at this year's Nike Indoor Nationals in Boston. Of the five events -- high jump, 60-meter
hurdles, long jump, shot put and 800-meter run -- Roberts had little experience throwing the shot put and had never competed in the 800. Yet she still finished second overall, losing by only 10 points to Illinois prep star Shakeia Pinnick.

After winning the high jump and performing well in her other events, Roberts held the lead on Pinnick heading into the 800. But her thoughts of winning a title slipped away when she finished second in the race to Pinnick, who is an elite 800 runner.

Instead of being satisfied with a second-place finish at a national meet in an event she had never competed in, Roberts was inconsolable.

"I asked her why she was so upset," Bryan Westfield says. "She said, 'Because I didn't win.' That again is this new attitude she developed. She finally realized how good she was."

"I cried for a little bit," Roberts adds. "I'm very competitive. Once I get out there and realize what I can do, I'm determined to push myself to the highest level."

All it took was a little fall.

Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.