Laura Johnston knows all about staying in shape. When she is not leading a water aerobics class at the Jimmy J. Fulks Aquatics Center at Rend Lake College, she likely is running, either for competition or for fun. Her efforts have been rewarded by the River to River Running Club, which has selected Johnston as Female Athlete of the Year.
Johnston, Assistant Coordinator of the Aquatics Center, received her award on Saturday, Jan. 22, at the club’s annual banquet at the Carbondale Civic Center.
According to Jay Brooks, Adult Education and Family Literacy Director at RLC and one of Johnston’s running partners, Johnston ran several races last year and had multiple first-place finishes. Nominees for Athlete of the Year are made by members of the River to River Running Club.
“I was really hoping to get it because I had such a variety of races and I had a really good year,” said Johnston.
Johnston said she has been a competitive runner her entire life, even running a few marathons in high school. However, in the last three years, she has “gotten serious again,” she said.
Even more than winning, though, Johnston enjoys the friendships she has made. She said she runs with members of the RRRC on Saturdays and with other friends on Sundays.
“Truly, without the support of my friends, I wouldn’t have won the award,” she said.
“It’s motivational,” she said. “Being able keep your distance up, running 10 or 15 miles ... I couldn’t do that without my friends.”
The most important factor for Johnston in running competitively is keeping her base mileage up, she said. She and most of her running partners are up to running 50 miles a week.
Johnston readily admits that her job at RLC is conducive to her running efforts. “If I didn’t work in a pool, I don’t think I’d recover from my runs quite as well,” she said.
One of Johnston’s favorite races is the River to River Relay, a team effort in which Rend Lake College has entered a team for the past 16 years. The race is run in the area near where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet at the southern tip of Illinois. Last year, the RLC team, of which Johnston is captain, took home its first award – second place in the Academic Division. Typically it is a difficult race to enter, she said.
“It’s a brutal race, 80 miles,” said Johnston. She said the course features hills, valleys, curves and other obstacles. Teams from all over the country compete, and there are sometimes more people interested in joining the Rend Lake College team than there are slots available.
A perk of her hobby is being able to promote a healthy lifestyle for her daughter, Cheyenna, Johnston said.
She also gave much credit to her husband, Don. Although he is not a runner, he does get up in the early morning hours of race days, driving Johnston to her events and handing out food and supplies to the runners. The family resides in Benton.
Among Johnston’s accomplishments:
5K Runs – First place with Brooks at the Springout 5K Couples race; first place in her age group at the Carbondale Co-op 5K Nutrition Run, 5K Honor Roll (from the Springout 5K) and Grace Race 5K; first place overall female at the 2004 BBQ on the River 5K and the Town and Country Days 5K Run; and second place overall female at the Kevin Reveal Memorial Turkey Trot and the Kinmundy Lions 5K Run.
4-Mile Runs – Female winner of the Superman Four-Mile Road Race.
10K Runs – First place overall female at the Herrinfest 10K (after this race, she ran the Herrinfest Straight Mile and took second place in her age group) and third place overall female at the Southern Illinois 10K.
10-Mile Runs – First place overall female at the Tunnel Hill 10-Mile Trail.
Half-Marathons – Third place overall female at the Great Escape from Marion Half-Marathon and fourth in her age group at the Lewis and Clark Half-Marathon in St. Charles, Mo.
Marathons – Fifth place in her age group and 31st overall female at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon (Johnston’s time of 3:33:50 qualified her for the Boston Marathon).