Natalie Johnson: Young Woman with a Huge Heart
Story by: Patti Shales Lefkos
“My big learning? Carpe Diem.” Seize the day.
Natalie Allison Johnston is a team player. Whether collaborating with family members to choose a name for their golden retriever, conspiring with pals to dress as parts of a Rubics cube for Halloween or volunteering in Kenya with Vernon Secondary School’s Global Action Program, Natalie adds enthusiasm and determination to every endeavour.
Don’t let her diminutive 4-foot, 11-inch stature fool you. Natalie may be petite, but she’s a 17-year-old powerhouse, a force to be reckoned with. “Our family,” including younger siblings Megan 16 and Connor 13, “always operates as a team,” Natalie says. “My parents are great role models of working together to get through any challenge. They taught us that we could do anything we put our minds to.”
And challenges started early. Natalie’s first sport memory is of downhill skiing in Smithers. “I was two years old. Dad pointed my skis downhill and said, “let’s go,” she laughs. So began a varied and illustrious involvement in sports, including playing ringette from ages 6 to 13, then moving on to ice hockey from 14 to 17.
During high school she represented Vernon Secondary School at provincial meets as a member of the cross-country running team, played volleyball and soccer at school, and soccer with the North Okanagan Youth Soccer League. And, still she found time to coach community league soccer. “There were no girls’ teams left. I got the 7-year-old boys. It was a shock at first. Then it was fun seeing what they got out of the game and how much fun they had,” she says. From ages 12 to 15 she somehow also found time to hit the pool, and represent Vernon in the BC Games. Her specialty? Fly. No surprise her long-term sport goal is to stay healthy and athletic for the rest of her life, as well as fitting in a marathon run or two. Doesn’t hurt having active parents: mom, a teacher, plays softball and runs, while dad, a forestry worker, has a passion for downhill skiing and soccer. “He coached everything, so we could do it,” Natalie says.
But life for Natalie isn’t all about sports. Her consistent “A” average has earned her a spot on the principal’s list every year in high school. “My 14 academic and sport friends are positive, and keep pushing me to get A’s,” she says.
Outgoing, positive and energetic, Natalie credits two recent life-changing experiences for her current exuberant, never-say-die attitude. The first, a two-week summer trip after her grade ten-year to volunteer in Kenya with the VSS Global Action program coordinated by teacher Sue Egan. “Natalie took part in numerous fundraising activities and worked at Booster Juice to support the trip, then made post trip presentations to raise money for the village,” says Egan. Natalie later volunteered at the Me to We Day in Vancouver. “I loved talking and playing with the kids, but it was a challenge to witness the living conditions of the locals,” she says. “Kenya opened up the world for me. I forgot about being afraid. I learned to just jump in and see where it goes.”
The second was her grade 11 stint in the VSS EarthQuest Program run by Barrie and Moe Reid. She says experiences like kayaking in Tofino and Saltspring Island, rock climbing, telemark skiing on the Blanket Glacier near Revelstoke and backpacking in the Cathedral Mountains were outstanding. “I learned I could pick up a kayak as easily as the boys,” she says, “and I made 25 friends in the program.” What’s next for this dynamic young Okanagan woman?
She’s off to Peru on an International Exchange sponsored by Rotary Club of Vernon, followed by an internship with Me to We, comprised of several months in Kenya or Vancouver. Her ultimate goal is to study physiotherapy and Sports Medicine at the University of Alberta with a future career as physiotherapist for an Olympic team.“My advice to others is to go for it,” she says. “Four years ago I wasn’t the person I am now. I didn’t think as big. I now know opportunities are open for me.