Dream Big Profile: Katie Johnston
April 20, 2004
Penn State junior Kate Johnston learned to dream big and overcome obstacles at a very young age. When she was four-years old she broke her arm, contracted a very serious ear infection, was nearly paralyzed by a spinal tumor, and was diagnosed with diabetes. Although it was a difficult period in her life, Kate insists these challenges helped her become the person she is today.
"Those problems turned out to be a blessing in a way," she says. "Having to deal with such serious problems made me more mature and taught me a lot about responsibility at a young age."
The lessons of responsibility must have paid off. Kate is a model student-athlete double majoring in crime, law and justice and sociology, with a minor in women's studies. She is also a top track and field performer.
During the 2004 Indoor Track season, she won the weight throw at the Penn/Princeton/PSU tri-meet, the Army Invitational, and the U.S. Coaches Association Series meet. Kate also finished fourth at the Big Ten Championships in the same event.
In addition to her top indoor performances, she placed second and 11th in the hammer throw at the 2003 Big Ten and NCAA Outdoor Championships, respectively. In 2003, she set a new Penn State hammer throw record with a toss of 197 feet-3 inches, breaking her old record of 179-9.
"I am honored to be the Penn State record holder, but as the event gets more popular, the distances will get farther," she says. "The sport is gaining in popularity, and I am proud to have helped set the bar, but I will need to throw much farther if I want the record to hold for any length of time."
Clearly Kate's early medical problems and continuous battle with diabetes has not hindered her throwing ability.
"Diabetes doesn't really affect my performance," she insists. "I have to remember to take my blood sugar monitor, insulin, and a few other things when I travel, but I am used to it, so I don't really think about it."
Kate attributes much of her success to her high school days in Warwick Veterans, Rhode Island, where she won numerous national championships in both the weight and hammer.
"Going into high school, I thought I would throw the shot put or javelin, but my coach asked me to throw the hammer," she reflects. "Rhode Island was the only state that sponsored the hammer throw at the high school level, so dating back to high school I have nearly seven years of experience in the event," she explains. "I am so comfortable with throwing, I think my experience and mental toughness helps give me a competitive advantage."
Perhaps that same mental toughness is what makes it easy for her to pursue a double major and do so well in the classroom.
"I really enjoy school," she admits. "My classes are not too hard for me because they are fun and I enjoy learning. I also think being an athlete has made me a better student. Being a student-athlete has forced me to organize and manage my time better. I can't imagine going to school without being an athlete."
Upon graduation, Kate will turn her focus solely on being a student by attending law school.
"I'd like to see where throwing takes me and compete in the Olympic trials this summer," she says. "But ultimately I hope to attend law school."
If history is any indication, Kate will do well at both the Olympic trials and law school. In the meantime, Kate is enjoying her time at Penn State and offers some advice to young people who are beginning to dream big.
"If your desire is strong enough, nothing will stop you. If you follow your dreams and work hard, good things will happen. Never stop going after it or say you can't do it. Never limit yourself."
Not bad advice from someone who has been dreaming big since she was four-years old.