One Step Ahead

Jan. 31, 2006

By Brianne Mallaghan
Special to

Heather Johnson has a daily planner so jam-packed that she has to schedule in time to eat - and breathe - for that matter. And she would not have it any other way. "I don't know what it is about me," she said, "but I seem to find everything to be involved in."

Talk about an understatement.

Johnson is involved in everything, and more importantly, all of the groups and organizations that she has taken interest in revolve around helping other people. Just this year, she is serving as Chair of the Education Student Advisory Committee, Co-Coordinator of Pax Christi, and Co-Head of Students for Responsible Choices (SRC). She spent her summer researching Non-Euclidean Geometry under a Holy Cross professor and has been a Calculus teaching assistant for two years. Johnson has been a Student Government Representative, a Fall Orientation leader, and a member of the American Sign Language Club. She spent the Fall semester student-teaching Math at a local Worcester high school.

Her volunteer experience includes Abby's Daytime in Worcester, the Mustard Seed, YOU (Youth Opportunities Upheld) Inc., coaching at the annual Holy Cross softball clinic, and tutoring at a local high school.

Not to mention that Johnson is also one of the most brilliant students in Holy Cross' Class of 2006.

She has been on the Dean's List each of the six semesters she has been at Mount St. James and was the only student-athlete of the 42 softball players named to the Patriot League honor roll last year to earn a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Her academic accolades include membership in the Holy Cross chapters of Alpha Sigma Nu and Pi Mu Epsilon.

No wonder she needs to schedule time to breathe.

"Heather is tough both mentally and physically and approaches everything she does in a positive manner," said former Holy Cross head softball coach, Bob Neville. "She leads by example and has the ability to motivate herself as well as others by staying focused on the task at hand."

Much of her hardworking and selfless attitude comes from the lessons her mother taught her growing up. "My mom is the most inspirational person in my life," Johnson said. "She is not only my mom, she is one of my best friends. She is a perfect example of working for something outside of yourself and doing things for other people. She taught me to never worry about how something affects me, but rather, how it affects everyone else. I have tried very hard to incorporate that in my life, but a lot of it is subconscious because of the values she has instilled in me without me even realizing it."

Johnson put those values to good use when she spent a weekend in Fort Benning, Ga., this past November at a vigil march protesting against human rights abuse. Through her involvement with Pax Christi, Johnson has become passionate about many issues of human rights and justice and grew interested in a movement called SOA Watch, which is a large, diverse movement rooted in solidarity with the people of Latin America. According to its website, the goal of SOA Watch is to close the School of the Americas and to change U.S. foreign policy in Latin America by educating the public, lobbying Congress and participating in creative, nonviolent resistance (

SOA Watch was developed in 1989 after six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. A U.S. Congressional Task Force reported that those responsible were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning (

The annual, weekend-long event allowed Johnson and eight other Holy Cross students and two chaplains to be involved in human rights and non-violence training workshops, peace open houses, teach-ins, gatherings, benefit concerts and the opportunity to hear speeches made from abuse survivors. It was an opportunity for Johnson and other students around the country to put their beliefs and passions into action.

"Our weekend in Georgia was amazing," said Johnson afterwards. "It captured a perfect balance between prayer, reflection, and fun. I was inspired and challenged by the dedication of the people we heard and met. Coming together with over 15,000 men, women, and children at the gates of the school was a powerful and moving experience. There was a genuine sense of solidarity and community as we united not only in our commitment to peace, but also in our humanity. The weekend renewed my hope and enthusiasm for change and transformation in a society that so often tries to dampen such feelings."

Johnson explained that the speakers at the SOA movement challenged the students to "catch on fire" with passion for issues of peace and social justice and to bring that fire back to our communities. But if you ask Neville, Johnson is already one step ahead of the game.

"Heather is involved in many human interest groups and is one of the most caring individuals I know," said Neville. "She works endlessly to make the world better. I have coached close to 30 years and Heather is the type of person who we coaches say, `Give me a team of Heathers and we can not help but be successful.'"

Johnson's off-the-field work ethic speaks for itself, but her journey to the Holy Cross softball diamond is something she is just as proud of. "The summer going into my freshman year, I pretty much decided that I was going to tryout and my attitude was `If I make it, that's great; if I don't I'll find something else.' I acted like I wasn't nervous, but I was really pretty worried about it," she said laughing.

But Johnson no longer has anything to worry about. The five-foot-six catcher/infielder is currently in her fourth year on the varsity softball team, and this season, she will serve as the team's captain and compete for a starting job behind the plate for the Crusaders.

"Heather came to Holy Cross and asked for a chance to walk on to the team," explained Neville. "I gave her a chance and she never stopped learning, working, trying and accomplishing from that moment on. Her goal was team success and how she contributed was not important."

Johnson's efforts on the field eventually paid off and as time went on, she earned more and more playing time. Just last season, she started 18 of the 23 games she played in and hit .240 with 12 hits, one double and two runs batted in. Defensively, she totaled 56 putouts, seven assists and a .984 fielding percentage with just one error. As a sophomore, she led the team in fielding percentage (.990) after committing just one error out of 97 chances. She has played in 63 career games and has made 35 starts, totaling 20 career hits, nine runs and two doubles, and has made just three errors in three years.

"What makes Heather special is the fact that she is a responsible person who does not make excuses," said current Holy Cross head softball coach Peter Maneggia. "Instead of just talking about issues, she is acting on issues. Whatever her involvement, she gives it her full effort with perspective."

"I have individual goals in my life, in softball, in anything I do. But I think people need to put their personal goals in the context of a larger picture; whether that is family goals, team goals, community goals, or in a larger sense, national and international goals. I think putting one's own achievements and work in the context of a broader picture is an important mindset to have. Living in a community, having a support network and working towards a common goal. That's the trend of my life, apparently," she said laughing.

Not a bad trend to have. And don't worry; Heather Johnson has already made room for that in her busy schedule. As usual, she is one step ahead.