If you were falling asleep on the sixth floor of Gelman and a world-class high jumper was reading in the chair next to you, you’d perk up, right? Say you’re watching television at J Street and a preview for the new movie Along Came a Spider came on. If one of the actors in that movie was standing in the Chick-fil-A line behind you, you’d be less impatient about your waffle fries and more fascinated by him, right? If one of D.C.’s most successful businessmen and lawyers in D.C. taught at GW, you’d know who he was wouldn’t you?
So here is the question: do you know who Bruce McBarnette is? Could you point him out a crowd at Gelman Library?
McBarnette is a world-class high jumper, high-powered lawyer, actor and philanthropist. And although most students might not now it, he is also part of the GW community. He is a GW continuing education professor, teaching courses for the LSAT, GRE and memory techniques.
Although McBarnette is an accomplished high jumper, there are no baby pictures of him attempting to leap small buildings in a single bound. The track-and-field superstar did not start jumping until his sophomore year at Princeton University. A high school sports star excelling in football and basketball, McBarnette continued his football career at Princeton and joined the track team in the off season to stay in shape. He picked up high jumping quickly. By his sophomore year he had made the varsity team, foregoing another year with the football team to concentrate on track.
Although he had a successful career at Princeton, the highlights of McBarnette’s jumping days were yet to come. He continued to jump long after his undergraduate days were over.
“The best performances of my life were after Princeton,” McBarnette said. “I wasn’t the best in the world when I was in college, but over time they all decreased in performance while I increased.”
McBarnette the New Jersey State championships, the Hawaii State championships and eight New York City championships in high-jumping. His most recent accomplishment was placing second at the Samuel Howell Invitational track meet, where he completed a jump of six feet, seven inches. McBarnette placed second among every age group, not just his own.
He is currently ranked No. 1 in the world in his age group (40-45), the winner of the Western Hemisphere 2001 championship and the United States indoor and outdoor champion in his age group.
McBarnette competes every two to three weeks. Because he is not competing as much as he did in college when he had meets every weekend, his training – a regiment of weightlifting, jumping, bounding exercises, sprinting, steps, distance training, stretching and flexibility exercises – can be more strategic. He has improved at peaking for meets, a strategy that involves training hard then backing off so the muscles can recuperate, which allows McBarnette to call on his muscles at their peak for an event.
McBarnette mainly coaches himself because of time and location restrictions, but he still keeps his allegiance to the New York Pioneer Track Club.
“It’s a very special track club,” McBarnette said. “It’s like a community.”
While the thrill of being the best in the world is an incentive to keep training, McBarnette is quick to point out that he continues with the sport because of its positive effects on other areas of his life.
“I don’t do it for the purpose of winning meets, I do it because it’s fun,” he said.
His next goal in track and field is to win July’s World Championships in Australia. With a win, McBarnette would capture just about every high-jump honor.
“That doesn’t mean I’ll stop (competing),” he said. “The winning is just the icing on the cake. The benefits of success come from never stopping competing. That continual effort over time really pays off. It’s a nice discipline that helps bring discipline to the other things I do.
McBarnette is also an actor playing principal roles in movies such as King Pin and television shows such as “Homicide: Life on the Street.” He will appear in the new Morgan Freeman movie Along came the Spider, and he just finished shooting a pilot for a TV show called “The Court.”
But McBarnette does more than that. He is the now the CEO of his own company, McBarnette Finance, a D.C. firm that represents a variety of financial institutions and investors. McBarnette is also a real-estate investor and the director of development for Charlie’s Place, a homeless service center D.C.
“It’s satisfying to reach goals you set for yourself,” he explained. “I believe if you’ve been blessed with certain talents you should make the most of them, because you have an obligation to make something of it.
“When you’re successful you don’t just lay back on your laurels. You say, `how can we capitalize on this.’ So much in sports you have to go out and perform the best you can no matter what the situation. This teaches you, despite rejection, to continue through for success, not to lower your standards through rejections.”
McBarnette applied his passion to do more to acting. At Princeton in ROTC, he was asked to do an ROTC ad that ran in national magazines and newspapers. Instead of just being happy with that opportunity, he asked how much further he could take it. He went to different modeling agents, using the picture as his foot in the door. Once he found work as a model, he took the next step to break into acting.
“If you do nothing but keep up what you’re doing over time, the benefits of perseverance come through,” McBarnette said.