Jill Johnson’s running career started out as a complimentary activity.
Running was a natural training fit for the Fredericton native, who played competitive soccer in high school and university, and later at the semiprofessional level with the Ottawa Fury for three years. The formula was straight forward. The more she ran, the better she played.
These days, as a guidance councillor at Naskwaaksis Middle School and co owner of Fitkids After School Program in Oromocto, running remains an important aspect of her life. “I realized that running and maintaining my fitness level helped me become a better player,” Johnson said. “After university, I continued to run to compete in soccer but later realized that it was a great boost in my mental health. The harder I pushed my run, the better I felt.”
Earlier this month, Johnson posted a 1:42.44 clocking in the Scotiabank Fredericton Marathon’s half marathon, good for fifth place of 106 competitors in the female 30-39 division and 72nd overall in the field of 585 entries.
Johnson, a married mother of two children, 5 and 4, attended the University of Waterloo and played CIS soccer for four years before earning her education degree at St. Thomas University.
She eventually taught 12 years in Gatineau, Que and then one year in West Vancouver before returning to Fredericton.
Through it all, she continued to run and now, through her FitKids program, is using that energy to educate a new generation to the benefits of fitness and activity. “I am a person who loves to be around people,” explained Johnson, who is also a certified personal trainer. “I work with lots of youth, youth at risk and work with people who just need a push to start being healthy. Running allowed me time on my own with no distractions and to really clear my head. I have always been a runner who just loved to come home from work and put on the Asics and go for a run.”
Another motivation was personal. It was in Vancouver that she discovered some issues with her heart and after consultations with her doctors, she gained new perspectives on the impacts of lower heart rates as well as added incentives for active living, aspirations she maintains today.
“At that point, running became the motivation to keep my heart strong and to live the healthiest life I can,” she said. “When you are faced with adversity with your health, a lot of things become clearer.
“My goals and motivation are to be the healthiest ‘me’ I can be. I try to live this way as a lifestyle and not a phase, I try to model this for my own children and the youth I work with daily.” She’s competed in the Ottawa Marathon half and one of her most memorable races was in Brazil in 2007, where she competed a half marathon as well.
“It started at one end of Rio and ended 21.1 km at the other end,” she said. “It showcased all Rio has to offer from their mountains, beaches, Favelas and the many cultural areas that make up Brazil. Children and adults of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds lined up for the run to support and cheer us on. It was an experience I will never forget.”
As for the rest of this year, she hopes to race in Quebec City and then a few other locations, so she can compete as well as see what those events and host cites offer.
More than that, though, are the training runs, often alone and ranging from roads to trails in Fredericton or other locations she enjoys, such as St, Martins.
“I love the mental clarity I get from running,” she said. “I find as soon as I start to run I feel energized and free, free of any distractions that life brings my way. It’s just me and my running shoes and the journey I am on.”
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.
This ran in the May 21, 2016 edition of the Daily Gleaner.