Gateway: Sports

‘She’s a little firecracker.’ Gig Harbor freshman distance runner Belle Johnson turns heads

The summer before her eighth grade year at Kopachuck Middle School, Belle Johnson ran a five-mile loop on Fox Island every other day, with treadmill running the days between.

Suffice it to say, there are probably aren’t a ton of other middle schoolers putting that kind of focus into running competitively. But Johnson does.

“I’m very passionate about running,” said Johnson, now a freshman at Gig Harbor High School. “We have some great coaches here. It’s great to be with other people who enjoy the exact same thing as you and are pushing you to do better.”

Johnson put together an impressive freshman cross country season, taking ninth at the West Central District championship race in October, before a 23rd place finish at the Class 3A state meet in Pasco in early November.

Her success has carried into track season, where Johnson has been the team’s top distance runner. She recently took first in 1,600 meters in a three-team meet at Shelton with a time of 5 minutes, 34.74 seconds and took first in a home meet against Central Kitsap in the 3,200 meters, clocking in at 11:55.00.

Gig Harbor distance coach Patty Ley, who has coached some great athletes over the years at Gig Harbor High and Gonzaga University, said Johnson has the potential to be special.

“She just loves what she’s doing,” Ley said. “She loves to run. She loves to compete. She’s a little firecracker in that way. … She just wants to be really, really good at this. That’s a huge part of who she is. She loves running, but she loves competing, too — and that’s going to make for a special athlete.”

That competitiveness and drive has been obvious to Ley, like when Johnson wants to run more because “it’s a beautiful day.” For a high school freshman, that’s unique.

“She just has that fire,” Ley said. “She wants to find out how good she is. It takes her past a lot of things.”

Some aspects of running competitively are still new to Johnson. Before coming to Gig Harbor, she never really thought about the nuances of the sport — pacing, nutrition, getting proper rest, etc. She just went out and ran.

“Before this, I had no clue,” she said. “I’d just get on a track and start running. When I was running the mile, I was just getting on a track and running four laps. I didn’t really think about it.”

The biggest thing Johnson said she’s learned from Ley is that it’s OK to take risks, to push herself out of her comfort zone.

“The biggest thing for her is that she’s still a little conservative about what she thinks she can do,” Ley said. “She’ll get out but maybe she’ll back it off a little bit. The biggest thing for her is getting her to take a couple risks, where, yeah, maybe you blow up. But you’re going to find out what your edge is.”

For Johnson, getting to the state track meet this spring is a big goal.

“That, and getting a (personal record time) close to 5:10,” she said. “Those are my goals. And I just want to become a better runner.”

If Johnson continues with her current trajectory, that should take care of itself.

“We’ve got some pretty solid top 10 lists (at Gig Harbor High School) and I think she can get on those lists,” Ley said. “I think she’s very capable of being in that conversation with some of the better kids.”