Just three years ago, Hurricane High School Senior Joie Johnston thought her running career was over. She had endured four different stress fractures on top of various other injuries.
Now, three years later, Johnston was on the podium, picking up her third First Team All-Conference plaque at the Mountain East Conference Championships last month. She has helped lead the Bobcats to four league titles during her time here so far (two in cross country and two in track).
"I feel blessed every day that I get to run healthy...and I give thanks for every season that I finish healthy and fit," Johnston said. "The memories of the injuries are always with me, so I never take anything for granted."
Johnston grew up in Wheeling to a prominent family in the world of law. Her father, the Honorable Thomas Johnston, was the United States District Attorney for the Northern District. Her mom, Lisa, is also an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Joie grew up near family in Wheeling, and started her early years of Elementary School in the Ohio County Schools system. At age nine, her world abruptly changed.
Her father was appointed by President George W. Bush as Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. When the United States Senate confirmed the appointment on March 6, 2006, Johnston became the youngest Federal Judge in the nation at 38. It also meant moving his family from the Wheeling area to the Charleston area.
Joie was in a new world and new friends. Her brother Jack, a star hockey player with his travel team in Pittsburgh, would now be focusing his talents on baseball. Jack, a 6'3" hard throwing pitcher, went on to help Hurricane win a AAA title in baseball in 2014. He is now a sophomore pitcher for Fairmont State, and appeared in 13 games as a true freshman for the Falcons last year, picking up a pair of wins.
For Joie, running became her sport of choice.
She began running in the sport as a sixth grader at Hurricane Middle School, and began to train seriously between her eighth and ninth grade years. This is when her injury saga began.
After a successful start to her ninth grade season at the large Geico Invitational on Labor Day Weekend of 2011, she tore her calf on a run just two days later. While she continued to make comebacks and enjoyed some success on the track, she never had a healthy cross country season. Every effort at a comeback continued to end in repeated stress fractures.
"I had pretty much decided that my body could not handle the mileage, and that competitive running was not for me," Johnston said. "I was not even thinking about running in college, even though I was getting recruited. My focus was on getting to an institution that would prepare me for Law School."
Johnston was looking at several prominent schools; Wesleyan, Washington & Lee, Wofford, Winthrop, and her hometown school of Wheeling Jesuit.
Her view of her running future changed on one afternoon during her recruiting visit to WVWC. In a walk with veteran head coach Jesse Skiles around Wesleyan Auxiliary Gym, a new option was set before her.
"Coach Skiles told me about a triathlon training program that he utilized with some of his athletes. It was really new to me, but it all made sense," Johnston said. "I was having trouble wrapping my mind around being able to be successful as a runner on only 20 miles of running per week."
Skiles explained the program which emphasizes a low volume of running, but large doses of controlled and data-oriented cross training. After the meeting, Skiles took Johnston to the cross country program's "Wall-of-Fame" a wall full of photos of every runner who has made all-conference for the school...he pointed out runner after runner that had been major stars here on that program; Beth Goolden, Sara Walker, Kelly Terhune, Naomi Underwood, Ali Cunningham, Tom Wood...
Skiles had her attention.
"What I saw was a chance to still pursue my running dreams," Johnston said. "From that point on when every other coach would call, I would ask if they had a cross training program that I could do as an alternative. Every single one said no, and that I would have to do the same big mileage as everybody."
"In high school, I was very close to my coaches, both Coach Posey and Coach Henley. In Coach Skiles, I also saw someone who would care for me as a person and not just a runner," Johnston said.
In April of 2015, Johnston committed to the Bobcats. Her decision was cemented just weeks later at Charleston's Laidley Field, where she witnessed the Bobcats sweep of the MEC Track & Field Championships.
"I saw in person what Coach had been telling me about the family atmosphere of the program...and the bond that the Bobcat athletes have with each other," Johnston said.
In the Fall of 2015, Johnston made All-Conference as a freshman, placing 10th in helping the team to the MEC title. In the regional meet two weeks later, she earned Academic All-America honors. The following Spring, she placed in the 5000 in helping lead the Bobcats to another track sweep...this time on the home track at Wesleyan.
As a sophomore, she again earned First Team All-Conference in cross country, and again earned Academic All-America with a 36th place run at the NCAA Regionals. At last spring's MEC Track Championships, Johnston was a double figure scorer, scoring 13 points, highlighted by a second place finish in the 10,000.
Last month, she was again First-Team All-Conference, helping lead her Bobcat teammates to another league title. She followed that up with another top 40 race at the Regionals, making the cut for a third Academic All-America honor.
"It has been such a blessing to be here," Johnston said. "My teammates have been there for each other, my coach has always been there for me, and I have built some wonderful relationships with the faculty and staff here...Wesleyan has been a great experience. God placed me in the right school, with the right coach, and with the right people around me...I am very thankful."
Johnston now faces a crossroads in her career. She is in a position to graduate in three years and move on to Law School, but there remains the opportunity to return and get one more year of college running and the chance to be four times all-conference.
"It is up in the air right now, but I am leaning toward going ahead and graduating," Johnston said. "There are a few factors that could potentially keep me here for another year."
With Law School looming in her near future, a career similar to her parents is in the offing, but Johnston certainly appears to be someone prepared to blaze her own path. She has always had an interest in the Constitution, and also the inner workings of law and politics.
Johnston plans to be involved in politics, but more along the line of working with campaigns and specific issues. She has served as President for the Young Republicans at WVWC.
For now, Johnston has more goals as a Bobcat runner. Another MEC title is there to chase on the track this Spring, and more PR's to chase.
For the forward thinking Joie Johnston...she would have it no other way.