Upper Arlington News

Upper Arlington celebrates Olympian Abby Johnston

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Abby Johnston returned to Upper Arlington nearly 10 weeks removed from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, silver medal in hand.

But what was one of the pressing questions awaiting her?

"What do you like to eat at the (Tremont) Chef-O-Nette?"

That was one of the queries posed to Johnston as she spoke to students Oct. 5 at one of the UA schools she attended, Jones Middle School.

"I kinda like the french fries," Johnston replied to resounding applause from the student body.

She was home for the first time since Christmas.

"We were driving down Northwest Boulevard and I saw the way the leaves were changing and the stars on the road," said Johnston, who won the country's first medal in 3-meter springboard synchronized diving with her partner, Kelci Bryant. "It feels like home and I realize how great of an upbringing I had in this area."

Her two-day whirlwind trip around central Ohio began at her former UA schools, Tremont Elementary and Jones. She also visited Barrington Elementary in UA as well as Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Johnston knew it was her cue to enter the Tremont gymnasium when she heard high-pitched chants of "USA! USA!" as students sat huddled together on the floor.

"Whatever you want to do, whether it's becoming an Olympian or becoming a musician or whatever your dream is, it's important to work hard and do everything you can do to reach that goal," she told the students. "If you push yourself harder than you ever thought you could, you can go far."

Outside Tremont Elementary is a statue of a lion. Johnston's mother, Elaine Johnston, would photograph her children beside the lion when they began each school year to see how much they had grown. Elaine had Abby stand next to the lion on Oct. 4.

"When you see the picture from when she was in kindergarten, she was so far below the lion and had her hair in a ponytail on the side. Now she towers above it," Elaine Johnston said. "It always was great to compare those photos to see how much our children grew."

Elaine and her husband, David Johnston, have two other children, both daughters. Adrienne, a Spanish teacher at Riverside Middle School in Greenville, S.C., attended the activities. Leah was unable to attend, as she is studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

The scene was infinitely different at Jones, where Abby Johnston was mobbed by students for high-fives as she walked through the auditorium to reach the lectern. As she left the assembly, a student ran across the auditorium for a goodbye hug.

The questions at Tremont were simple: What's your favorite dive? ("Back two and a half. It's the last dive that I do in every meet.") Were you nervous? ("Yes, the night before, but when I woke up, I was excited to get out there and compete because I did all of the preparation to be successful.")

The inquiries at Jones were less about the Olympic experience: What locker did you have at Jones? ("I can't remember.") Who was your favorite teacher at Jones? ("I liked all of them.") Are you related to (Jones teacher) Mr. (Mark) Johnston? ("I asked him that when I was here at Jones and he said, 'No.'")

Johnston said it was difficult not to be star-struck in the Olympic Village. She met NBA player LeBron James and had dinner with another NBA star, Tony Parker.

The opening ceremony at the Olympics was a moving experience Johnston said she will never forget.

"It wasn't far from the Olympic Village, but it took about two hours to walk to the ceremony because of all of the people," she said. "But then you get outside the stadium and you hear chants of 'USA! USA! USA!' You can't help but get tears in your eyes over that."

Johnston won Division I state titles in 1-meter diving in 2005 and 2007 and was runner-up in 2006. She moved to Durham, N.C., as a senior and completed her coursework online to graduate from Upper Arlington High School. She currently is a senior at Duke University, majoring in psychology, and plans to enter medical school after graduation next spring.

On Oct. 6, Johnston attended a party held on her childhood block of Wexford Road in UA. The block party included music and vocals from Luke Evans of Grandview and Irene Stroh, a neighbor for whom Johnston was a babysitter as a teenager.

The block party was organized by one of the Johnstons' neighbors, Jane Jentgen.

"When I found out Abby was coming home, I asked Elaine if we could do something for her," Jentgen said. "I wanted to make sure we celebrated Abby's great accomplishment and I wanted to get as many people in the area involved as possible."

Also at the block party, it was announced UA would place signs at the entrance of Wexford Road at Lane Avenue honoring Johnston's achievement. In addition, Tony Callander, president of the UA Civic Association, said the Olympian would be grand marshal of the city's Fourth of July parade in 2013.

"Fourth of July was always my favorite holiday, even more than Christmas. Well, actually, it's my birthday, then the Fourth of July, and then Christmas," Johnston said. "When I went to Duke, no one could understand why I liked the Fourth of July so much. I would tell them I liked how patriotic everyone is, but it's also different in UA the way the whole community comes together, the parade, the fireworks.

"You walk from house to house. You have barbecues all day long. They say, 'You just walk around all day?' I tell them some people ride around on golf carts, but that's pretty much what we do. I love the way that it brings the community together."

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