Oberlin Through an All-American’s Eyes

Joanna Johnson

This is my rhythm. The humid air surging in and out of my lungs, the pounding of my heart, my arms swinging, my rubber soles drumming on the pavement. Having found my cadence, I relax and settle in. I clear my mind of all distractions and lose myself in the harmony of the movement produced by myself and those around me.

Minutes and miles fly by, and I find myself turning the corner onto Union Street. The gym comes into view. “All right guys,” Jacob gasps between breaths. “Push through to the end.” We pick up the pace as we stride down the street, house by house.
I never won a race in high school. I didn’t qualify for the California State Championships in cross country or track. I ran because I enjoyed it. I love the satisfying fatigue of completing a long run or a tough workout, and I appreciated the direct correlation between the work I put in and what I got out of it.

At Oberlin, running became more than a physical activity. Traditions such as our annual musical theater production, the “Fall Fancy Feast,” scavenger hunts across campus or in the graveyard, sunrise breakfasts and cookie exchanges are as much a part of being on the Oberlin cross country and track teams as going to practice. One fall break, the team was sitting on the lawn of the captain’s Woodland Street house carving pumpkins when a soccer player walking by told one of us, “Who are you guys? You’re too cute and perfect; you’re not even human. You’re like some strange breed of aliens!” Perhaps our love for each other and the amount of time we spend together are a bit unusual. But it is the unparalleled enthusiasm and support of these teammates that has been the greatest motivation to me throughout my running career at Oberlin.

I have accomplished much more in my four years at Oberlin than I had ever imagined as an incoming first-year. As proud as I am of my achievements, this is not what I will take away with me when I leave Oberlin in May. Running has taught me that success is not about natural talent (of which, as my coach will tell you, I have very little) but about passion and dedication. Every time I run a race faster than I had once thought to be my limit, I am all the more driven to keep working harder. Races are never won and records are never broken by settling in to a comfortable pace. I’m not ready to settle.

A year ago, sitting at lunch with my coach before the Indoor Track National Championships, I reflected on my pending departure from Oberlin. I dreamed of continuing to train but did not want to do it alone. Combining running with my love for travel, Coach Appenheimer and I formulated the idea of traveling the world to train with elite female runners to pursue my aspirations of professional marathoning and to learn about the influence different cultures have on the paths women take to becoming professional runners.

As of this week, this idea has become a reality. I will depart on my venture as a Watson Fellow this August. This team is behind one another every step of the way, and not only right now at Oberlin. I run with the confidence that I can count on the support of my teammates for the rest of my life. And that makes every step worth it.