‘A do-by-example person’: Abby Johnson leads tight-knit track team

Abby Johnson SC ’21 fosters a postive team atmosphere on the CMS track and field team, while also proving herself to be one of the top distance runners. (Eloise Shields • The Student Life)

Recalling a track meet in Houston earlier this year — in which she finished fourth overall in the mile and first among Division III athletes — Abigail Johnson SC ’21 chose to focus instead on a different part of the weekend.

“When we traveled to that meet, we ate at Chili’s the night before,” she said. “It was my first time eating at Chili’s in my whole life, so it was a very exciting weekend.”

Outside of discovering new foods, Johnson is a standout on the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps track and cross-country teams. Recently, she won both the 800-meter and the 1500-meter races at a SCIAC Multi-Dual meet at Redlands March 2, and finished fourth at the SCIAC cross-country championship meet last October.

That’s just the start for Johnson, though. She’s also a leader of the team’s positive culture, according to head distance coach John Goldhammer, who has been coaching CMS cross-country and track and been an athletic administrator for 35 years.

“Abby’s just a person that works hard and people follow her,” he said. “There’s a definite group that believes that Abby is someone they want to follow.”

As a team leader, Johnson has been a key part of cultivating a culture that encourages athletes to not take themselves too seriously. Johnson said the team’s welcoming environment and focus on having fun outside of racing is the basis for her success.

“The team atmosphere invites everyone to show up physically and mentally every day,” Johnson said. “That just makes you better automatically, because you have the right attitude and you’re trying to work hard for the team.”

For Johnson, being part of a tight-knit group is something that has always been important. She originally played soccer, but transitioned to distance running in high school because of friends on the team.

Her high school team was very close, which Johnson said was a deciding factor in her decision to choose CMS.

“I was looking for that kind of team experience and motivating group [in college], and that’s what I got,” Johnson said.

Despite her successes, Johnson isn’t taking anything for granted. She’s working hard to overcome challenges that arose during her first year of college.

“I struggled with confidence a lot last season,” Johnson said. “I got in a cycle of not running what I wanted to run and getting worried about it, and it’d mess up my next race.”

She’s made a concerted effort this year to change her “self-talk” before races to combat that tendency, with the hope that it’ll help her run her best. Johnson has learned to relax before meets this track season and has been able to enjoy pre-race Chili’s meals instead of worrying about her races.

Goldhammer said Johnson also has an ability to balance rigorous academics with the demands of a highly competitive team.

“She’s a very focused individual when she’s in the athletic part of her life, as she is in academics,” Goldhammer said. “She’s a do-by-example type of person.”

Johnson is hoping to complete a dual major in legal studies and Spanish, and eventually pursue a career of legal advocacy; she’s also interested in immigrant rights and foreign policy.

Outside of sports and school, Johnson describes herself as a resourceful baker; someone who finds enjoyment in all types of food and particularly likes to repurpose items taken from dining halls.

But most of all — even sweeter than banana bread crafted from dining hall leftovers — Johnson savors her team’s achievements.

“I think there were maybe eight [Athenas] in the prelims for the 1500 and six of us qualified for the final,” Johnson said of last year’s SCIAC championship track meet. “So there were 12 people in it from our conference and half of them were Athenas. It was just a beautiful sight and everyone did really well.”

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