By Cobey Culton, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The life of a student-athlete at the University of North Carolina can be grueling. In the case of track and field athletes, practices can last as long as three hours. Throw classes into the mix, and most people would have a full schedule.
But don't tell that to senior jumper Tristine Johnson.
The Durham, N.C. native has assembled quite the résumé during her time at UNC. She is co-president of a nonprofit called Healthy Girls Save The World, a Veteran Leader in the Carolina Leadership Academy and a mentor in an organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters - and that's just to name a few of her off-the-track endeavors.
Johnson's involvement in Healthy Girls Save The World, a nonprofit with the mission of teaching 8-15 year-old girls how to live healthy lifestyles, started two years ago when Johnson's former neighbor asked her speak at an event at the Durham Public Library.
"It kind of fell into my lap," said Johnson. "I loved it, and things just went from there."
The organization hosts a number of events at UNC that feature guest speakers in the fitness and nutrition fields. Girls who attend also get to meet and exercise with Division I athletes like Johnson.
"The girls are enamored with athletes in general, so being a Division I athlete definitely gives me credibility," explained Johnson. "It's a great opportunity to lead by example."
Johnson credits the Carolina Leadership Academy for honing her leadership skills.
Founded in 2004 by then-athletic director Dick Baddour, the first phase of the program - typically completed during a student-athlete's freshman year - teaches personal leadership through keynote speakers and small group discussions.
Only high-potential sophomores and juniors are selected to move on to the "Rising Stars" phase, which teaches participants effective leadership strategies. Johnson was one of them, and now she is in the "Veteran Leader" phase designed for team captains and other veteran student-athletes.
"The Carolina Leadership Academy has been a great experience because I've been able to apply everything I've learned to other things like Healthy Girls [Save the World]," said Johnson. "There is a component called 360 degree feedback where we get to bounce ideas and problems off our peers, so the program has been really helpful."
To top it off, Johnson has been involved in the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters for two years. The organization pairs older role models with young children and teenagers in an effort to give the mentees a positive and stable influence. Johnson visits her "Little Sister" every other weekend, and her visits typically consist of the pair just spending quality time together.
So how does Johnson manage her busy schedule?
"It's definitely a challenge, but [assistant coach] Steve Rubin has supported me. He let's me know about things ahead of time, but at the same time he doesn't cut me any slack. I also try to take advantage of academic resources so I can use my time efficiently."
Making time is also a lot easier when it's time well spent.
"I have a passion for helping people," said Johnson. "It's very fulfilling to be able to give back."