By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Lea Johnson knew she would excel in collegiate athletics.
The 5-foot-10 sophomore was confident she would continue her athletic career in college, but she did not know that it would be as a thrower in track and field.
“In high school, I was really focused on basketball,” Johnson said. That’s what I did all over the summer and I had some D-2 and D-3 offers for basketball like at Washington University in St. Louis.”
But Johnson was competing in track and field, as well as basketball, at John Burroughs School in St. Louis and she ultimately shocked her family when she decided to join Miami’s track and field program.
“I just really liked it here,” Johnson said. “It really was a shock to most people back home. When I talked to my family members about it they were like, ‘so you’re not going to play basketball anymore?’ I told them, ‘I know where I want to go to school and I’m not going to go somewhere that I’ll be walking to school in blizzards.’ I was recruited by a bunch of Midwest schools for basketball and I didn’t want to be in that weather.”
Johnson is considered undersized for a collegiate thrower. She would have been even more undersized for a college basketball forward and she says that also factored into her decision to give up basketball and take up throwing full-time.
“I was a forward and I’m 5-foot-10,” Johnson said. “In college, forwards are like over six feet tall. People my size are guards and I don’t have point guard ball-handling skills, so I knew I couldn’t do D-1.”
So Johnson headed to Coral Gables and walked on to Miami’s track team.
“I was throwing discus and shot put and they taught me how to throw weight and hammer,” Johnson said.
Johnson earned a partial scholarship after being a walk-on as a freshman. She finished off her first indoor season by placing fourth in the women’s weight throw at the ACC Indoor Championships with a mark of 61’ 10.5”.
“It was amazing,” Johnson said. “I just really wanted to place and to place fourth was amazing. I called my parents and told them that I placed. Next year I’m hoping to medal and get Top 3, but placing was good for the first time and I set a new personal record.”
Working with throws coach Cory Young has helped Johnson improve tremendously.
“I didn’t travel last year, so I didn’t have a personal record for weight throw,” Johnson said. “But in hammer throw, my personal record last year was 46m. Now I am throwing almost 60m, so I’ve been progressing a lot. It’s exciting to see yourself improve and I’m really looking forward to outdoor season.”
After being an impact performer during the indoor season, Johnson was anxious to get the outdoor season going.
“I’ve been doing really well in practice, so I’m excited to get a mark out there and actually start competing,” Johnson said. “I want to see where I am. I don’t like just sitting here not competing. We just finished indoor, but I’m ready to go to another meet.”
The outdoor season has gone very well for Johnson. Through two meets, she has set a personal best in the hammer throw (173’ 3”) and found success throwing the javelin (92’ 10”).
Johnson is focused on improving all of her throws, but she plans to go to medical school once her collegiate career is over. The microbiology major plans on selecting her medical school similar to how she chose Miami.
“I want to be a doctor,” Johnson said. “I shadowed an orthopedic surgeon and that was really cool. I like sports medicine so I think that’s what I want to do. I’m not sure if I will find another specialty that I like more once I get to medical school. I know I’m applying to the University of Miami’s medical school and then I’ll apply to some California ones, too, because I want to stay in the good weather.”