SAULT STE. MARIE - When Rhiannon Johns crossed the finish line Wednesday night at the NCAA Division 1 National Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., it also marked the end of an era for the 22-year-old Sault Ste. Marie native.
Johns finished 12th in the 10-kilometre race in a field of 22, in what was her final event as a track athlete for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she has studied and competed for the past five years.
Johns completed the race Wednesday in a time of 34:15.62 minutes. Iowa State’s Betsy Saina won the event with a time of 33:08.85.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet moment,” Johns said via cellphone Thursday afternoon while still at the national championships in Oregon.
“I’m happy with how I did, but at the same time I’m really sad that it’s all over.”
It is Johns second trip to the national championships in two years. In 2011 she competed in the 5k event, but didn’t fare well at the all-American meet that year.
She said her attitude was different this time around because she is “a completely different runner” than she was in 2011.
Not only did she carry more experience into the championships this time, she is also more skilled as a distance runner, she said.
“I definitely had a bit more confidence and a feeling like I belonged in the race, and that I could compete with those girls, that I was supposed to be there. Whereas last time the whole thing was a little bit overwhelming.”
Although her college career is now officially over, there will be little down-time for Johns, who continued to train Thursday morning for the upcoming Canadian Track and Field Championships, to be held in Moncton, N.B., June 20-23.
“In terms of training, it’s just back to normal. I went for an eight-mile run this morning. There’s no time off, we’re right back at it. But in terms of the finality of my collegiate career, it’s strange,” she said.
Johns will represent Canada at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, July 6-17. She qualified for the event in March at the Stanford University Invitational meet in California, where she set a personal best for the 10k in a time of 33:29.99.
She is working on her masters in mathematics at UAB.
Johns said she owes much of her success – both on the track and in the classroom – to the support she has received from friends and family in the Sault, as well as coaches and professors at UAB.
“You couldn’t do this without having a really good team of people to back you up.”