GREENVILLE — Height, competitiveness and a willingness to learn.
Those are the tools Greenville senior Tatum Johnson has at her disposal as a multi-sport athlete for the Yellow Jackets. Playing varsity on the volleyball, basketball and softball teams, Johnson shined as a frontcourt player for the Jackets’ volleyball team in her high school career. She initially thought volleyball would be her college sport of choice until she received a tip from her club volleyball coach.
David Rawles, the director of the Saints Volleyball Club in Grand Rapids, previously coached a player who went onto join the rowing team at Michigan State University. Seeing the height of Johnson and her skill set, Rawles suggested talking with the girl and her family to inquire about rowing as a possible college sport. It intrigued Johnson and she started to look into it as a possibility.
“After he kind of brought that up to me, I went to a clinic right before the shutdown in March and at the clinic, they were like, ‘We usually look for lengthy girls and multi-sport athletes,’ and at that time I had been playing volleyball, softball, basketball and club volleyball,” Johnson said. “So, from their perspective, I was technically considered a four-sport athlete and that’s something that they look for. A few months later they contacted me and then they offered me in early June or mid-July.”
Johnson made her college decision on Nov. 10 and signed on with the Michigan State University rowing team a few weeks ago. Already looking at Michigan State as a possible school of choice, the opportunity to continue her athletic career was something that pushed Johnson to choose the Spartans over other options she’d been considering.
“I always wanted something to keep me moving during college and I think that’s probably what my parents wanted, too,” Johnson said. “So I think that if rowing didn’t come up, I would be at a small D2, D3 school or even a community college (playing volleyball).”
Johnson was specifically looking at Grand Rapids Community College as a possible destination to continue her volleyball career.
Despite being diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, a neurological condition that causes muscle weakness and decreased muscle size, Johnson was driven to continue her athletic career into college. Though she deals with shooting pain in her feet, legs and hands, staying active provides a form of physical therapy for Johnson as well as some enjoyment along the way.
“It’s kind of a been a goal of mine,” said Johnson on continuing her athletic career into college. “It’s one of those things that if I were to stop now, it would probably progress a lot faster than normal. So really, keeping moving in some sort of sport, whether it’s volleyball, rowing, softball, it’s going to be the best long-term for me and that’s something my parents pointed out as well.”
Johnson said part of the intrigue of the rowing team was the challenge of rowing and taking on something completely new.
“After trying it, it’s a great group of people and it’s a large group of people,” she said. “It’s not your average team where it’s 10-12 girls who are tight-knit, it’s around 70-90 people depending on the year. You could have a ton of girls, you could have none and that’s something that’s eye-opening. It’s a big school so you need to find something that makes it smaller.”
Many freshmen on the rowing team spend their first year simply learning and observing the sport, as most of them, like Johnson, are completely new to the sport. She thinks her leadership qualities will help with cooperating with teammates, as it is a technical sport where you have to work well in unison with others.
“It’s one of those things that you need to work well together at because you could have two people, you could have four people, you could even have eight in one boat and if you get out of rhythm, it’s going to mess everyone up,” she said.
Rowing is a spring sport at Michigan State. Though the 2019-2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus, the Spartan placed seventh out of eight teams at the Big Ten Rowing Championships in the 2018-2019 season. The head coach of the Spartans’ rowing team is Kim Chavers, who will be entering her third season as head coach.
Johnson plans to major in Pre-nursing at Michigan State.
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