April 28, 2014
The Big Ten, the nation's oldest collegiate conference, commemorates the 100th anniversary of a very unique tradition - the Big Ten Medal of Honor. As part of the celebration, the conference is conducting a national campaign to pay tribute to the rich tradition established in 1915 and showcase the benefits of the student-athlete experience across its campuses.
By JIL PRICE
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Former Hawkeye softball standout Kristin Johnson grew up and learned to achieve excellence in all areas of her life during her time at the University of Iowa.
The four-year starting shortstop was the recipient of the prestigious Big Ten Medal of Honor in 2003 -- just the second softball student-athlete to receive the honor school history.
"It was a great honor," Johnson said. "I was thankful and kind of surprised. I didn't know much about it at the time. Being chosen out of all the athletes in the Big Ten, which is an amazing conference, I was surprised and thankful.
"I better appreciate what it means to be selected now. The award gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the Big Ten in general. It shows what a good conference it is, athletically and academically. Getting to know, play and be friends with so many other athletes from different conferences after graduation gave me an understanding of how strong the Big Ten is, especially in academics."
Johnson, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native, grew up a Hawkeye fan and was recruited by former UI head coach Gayle Blevins early in her high school career. She jumped at the opportunity to wear an Iowa uniform and made the most of her time on the field and in the classroom, becoming one of the most decorated softball student-athletes in school history.
Johnson earned NFCA Second-Team All-America honors in as a senior and NFCA Third-Team All-America distinction as a junior and was also a First Team Verizon Academic All-American in 2003. She was a four-time All-Big Ten selection, earning first-team honors in 2002 and 2003, a four-time Gold Glove winner, a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, a 2003 academic all-district honoree, Iowa's team MVP and Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipient as well.
During her Hawkeye career, Johnson helped the team advance to the Women's College World Series in 2001 and claim Big Ten titles in 2000 and 2003.
"My focus was more on softball, competing and being on a good team," Johnson said. "As college went on, I learned a little bit more about myself, learned my gifts and what I was good at and what I wasn't. That ultimately led to me being a physical therapist."
While Johnson graduated from the UI with degrees in accounting and communications studies, she realized in her final year of school that her passion was working in physical therapy.
"I wanted to find a career path that I would enjoy and be passionate about," she said. "That took me a while to find, but I always knew I wanted to be successful in general. It was the end of my senior year that I decided I wanted to pursue physical therapy. That's what I've finished going to graduate school for in Denver."
After playing for the Akron Racers from 2003-07 in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League, Johnson earned her physical therapy degree from Regis University in Denver, Colorado. She spent time as an assistant coach of the school's Division II softball team. Following graduation, she found a job working as a physical therapist during the day and was able to continue to coach at Regis in the afternoon.
No matter where she is at in life, Johnson remembers what it felt like to be successful and achieve great things with her friends and teammates at the University of Iowa.
"The success we had as a team while I was there made me strive for excellence," Johnson said. "I want to achieve that in whatever field I'm working in and in all areas of my life.
"The discipline of athletics has helped with any job. You're going to have bad days and good days, but you have to be able to work through the bad days, knowing that it's not always going to be that way. You still have to be able to do your best when other people aren't treating you the best. That prepared me for the real world."
Johnson's advice to current Hawkeye student-athletes is clear and simple.
"Work hard and have fun," she said. "You need both of those to be successful. In the bad times, keep your sights up high, which is the Big Ten Championship in my view."