Outstanding student, athlete and volunteer, UNC-Charlotte track and field star is motivated by an internal drive

A triple threat: outstanding student, athlete and volunteer, UNC-Charlotte track and field star is motivated by an internal drive

Lelita L. Cannon

“Incredible.” That’s the word used to describe track and field standout Sharonda Latrice Johnson.

“Sharonda is the absolute best and brightest. She is the first athletic, as well as academic, All-American Charlotte has ever had,” says Lisa Hibbs, director of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Athletic Academic Advising Center.

Meeting Johnson during the recruitment process, Hibbs has come to know the track and field star over the past two and a half, years. Hibbs says Johnson’s motivation comes from an “internal drive.”

That internal drive has led Johnson to rack up a long list of noteworthy accomplishments. She has been on the Chancellor’s List. which requires a 3.8 GPA or higher–all but a single semester, and has been the recipient of the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Conference USA (C-USA) Commissioner’s Academic Medal, which requires a 3.75 cumulative GPA or higher. The junior has dominated the triple jump and high jump events in the conference, earning All-America honors in the triple jump at the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Johnson is the first female at UNC-Charlotte to earn an All-America award in a jumping event and only the second female overall at the school to earn All-America honors in track and field. She also captured both the indoor and outdoor C-USA championships in the triple jump as a sophomore in 2004, and became the first Charlotte female to compete at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Johnson also holds the school record in both the indoor and outdoor triple jump, and tied the school record for the indoor high jump. And she has already provisionally qualified for the 2005 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in the triple and high jump. This is the first time this has ever occurred at Charlotte.

The “ability to do it all incredibly well” is among the track star’s best qualities, says Hibbs who nominated Johnson for the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award.

Track and field coach Bob Olesen echoes Hibbs. “Sharonda is the best leader by example that we could ask for,” he says.

Johnson also has a great deal of respect and admiration for Olesen, whom she considers a role model.

“When he was competing, he walked on to the track team (meaning that he did not receive a scholarship) at Illinois and he ended up being an All-American,” Johnson says. “That says it all right there. He did great things, and he’s been to the Olympics. I look up to him.”

Exchanging accolades, Olesen says, “Sharonda is very intrinsically motivated and drives herself to succeed without the need for a great deal of extrinsic motivation. Like most highly successful athletes, she expects a great deal from herself, so I do my best to point out the ‘stepping stone’ achievements on the way to the big things she and I expect for her,” Olesen says. “Her academic and athletic achievements and her position as a role model for anyone who wants to see and learn how to go about being successful as a collegiate student-athlete” make her an outstanding individual and team member. “She is dedicated to improving herself on and off the track and is dedicated to doing the right things to make that happen day in and day out,” Olesen says.

Johnson, a native of Raleigh, N.C., is the product of supportive parents, Ron and Shirbey Johnson. As a student at Southeast Raleigh High School, Johnson originally planned to focus on basketball. She joined the track and field program at the urging of the weightlifting coach, who persuaded her to go out for the team.

“I didn’t really want to, but I ended up doing well,” Johnson says about initially trying out for track and field. She became back-to-back state champion in the triple jump and was the Adidas High School All-American her senior year.

“I do triple jump and high jump, but triple jump is where my heart is,” Johnson says. When the time came to choose a university, Johnson says of UNC-Charlotte, “I came and I liked the campus, I liked the coaches, and it just seemed like the best fit for me as far as the options that I had.”

Though Johnson is proud of the records she has met and set, she still has her sights set on a few more goals she vows to meet before her graduation day.

“I’m really never satisfied,” Johnson says. “I might break my own record, but I still think I’d be able to do more. I have some time, and I’ll reach them before I leave Charlotte. I always feel like there’s something I should be doing. I never feel like I should just be sitting down.”

As for staying balanced, Johnson simply tries to manage her time as best she can by staying on top of her work. In the event she has to miss class for a track meet, Johnson makes sure she gets the notes and talks to her professors. Once she graduates from UNCC, she will most likely attend graduate school. Her field is chemistry, but she’s not certain where she wants to position herself among the seemingly endless possibilities. She anticipates competing in the 2008 Olympics, preferably in the triple jump, but would gladly compete in another area.

“She wants to succeed in everything she does–she doesn’t do anything halfway,” says Hibbs. “When Sharonda says she’s going to do it, she does it. She is the best I have ever seen. She pushes herself and gets excellence out of it every time.”

In addition to all of her athletic and academic obligations, Johnson takes time out to lend a hand to various community service projects the academic advising center offers.

Johnson volunteers with different organizations around the university. She has helped with Red Cross blood drives, has been a Kidney Walk participant and volunteered at a homeless shelter. She has also volunteered with the Police Athletic League, tutoring middle–and high-school age students in subjects such as math, science and reading, as well as tutoring fellow student-athletes in everything from chemistry to physics.

“It gives me joy just to help other people,” Johnson says.



School: University of North Carolina-Charlotte

Year: Junior

Major: Chemistry

Cumulative GPA: 3.8

Fall 2004 GPA: 3.7

Sport: Track & Field

Previous Top Female Athletes *

2003: Kara Lawson, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Basketball

2002: Carlla Johnson, University of Maryland College Park, Gymnastics

2001: Danielle Slaton, Santa Clara University, Soccer

2000: Christiana Nwofor, Oberlin College, Track & Field

1999: Shannon Brown, University of Wisconsin, Soccer

1998: LaTisha Shaw, Stevens Institute of Technology, Soccer and Track & Field

1997: Natasha Taylor, West Texas A&M University, Basketball

1996: Christina Thomaskutty, Tulane University, Basketball

1995: Michaelene Tetteh, Arizona State University, Track & Field

* Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award was not presented in 2004.

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