By Elyse Pitkin
Hiram’s assistant professor of sport management at Hiram, Joanna Line, never imagined as a college athlete that she would be inducted into the Oberlin College Athletics Hall of Fame. “My first college cross country season, I didn’t even know how to qualify for nationals,” said Line. “I ran because I wanted to challenge myself and keep improving.” In high school, Line never won a race but eventually found herself participating and winning Conference Championships and becoming a seven-time All-American in cross country and track and field. “I attribute the competitive success I had to having a coach who set me up for success and always guided me rather than telling me what I should achieve. He never made me feel like my value on the team was based on how I competed,” said Line. This guidance from her coach allowed her to focus on challenging her limits during her races and training.
Line further attributes her induction into the Oberlin College Athletics Hall of Fame to one of the main reasons she continues to run: seeing other successful women runners. As a high school and college runner, Line looked for successful women runners as role models and was fortunate to have teammates and alumni that inspired her. “I hope that women athletes can believe that they can grow as athletes beyond what may seem realistic in the current moment, or beyond what other people may have told them they could do,” said Line.
During her senior year in college, Line was awarded a $25,000 grant through the Watson Fellowship. After graduating, she traveled the world alone, joined several unfamiliar running teams and clubs, and was generously welcomed into the homes of people who were initially strangers and later became close friends. “You are not allowed to use any additional funds, like personal savings, gifts, or work. Your Watson Fellowship year isn’t meant to be a luxurious vacation, it’s an immersive learning experience during which you are fully focused on learning about the topic you proposed,” said Line. Her project was spending a year training and competing with elite distance running teams and community running clubs to learn what motivates women to run, and the success and challenges that women runners experience in different cultural contexts. “Initially, I planned to just train with elite teams in the countries that were most competitive in the marathon. As my plan developed and I started networking with groups around the world, I decided to expand the scope of types of teams and clubs as well as which countries I would go to,” said Line. Her journey first began in Ethiopia where she spent four months with an elite distance running team. Later she spent two months in France, five months in Norway and one month in Singapore.
“I enjoyed my time in each country and learned a lot from the teams and families that hosted me,” said Line. In Ethiopia, she trained with an elite men’s and women’s team that all lived together. “While they didn’t all run the same paces in hard workouts, we all did the same workouts together. On easy run days, the team members often ran together. Gender didn’t matter. Everyone wanted to help one another be successful. They also taught me about the importance of recovery. They took rest as seriously as their hard training to make sure they fully recovered and reaped the rewards of their hard efforts, which is something that has stuck with me as an athlete and a coach,” said Line.
Running continues to be a staple in Line’s life. When competing, she aims to challenge expectations for what women athletes are capable of and what post-collegiate athletes are capable of. “Often, when people learn that I’m a professor of Sport Management, they ask if I was an athlete and are surprised by my response that I am still a competitive athlete,” said Line. “The assumption is that our competitive athletic experience is over once we graduate from college. That simply isn’t true.” Line ran a personal best time for the 5k six years after she graduated and is still hoping to run a faster time. After graduating from college, Line set herself a goal to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. “I’ve continued to improve over the years and ran a personal best time that was a little less than 1 second per mile off of the standard to qualify in 2019 (I ran 2:45:23, and the standard was 2:45:00). They have since made the qualifying time even faster (2:37:00), but I am still aiming to qualify for the trials within the next two Olympic cycles,” said Line.
To read more about Line’s induction, click here.