GCU manager gains fame for track and field titles

Former track and field star Jackie Johnson-Powell, now a GCU employee, was so surprised by being included in the first class to be inducted into the Collegiate Athlete Hall of Fame, she said "it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it."

By Paul Coro
GCU News Bureau

The heptathlon defines the life of Jackie Johnson-Powell, whose family has become a seven-event circuit with five kids and two dogs to raise with her husband.

Johnson-Powell was one of 30 inductees to get a banner.

Johnson-Powell has put an indelible mark on Grand Canyon University in admissions for almost 10 years, including the last six years as a university admissions manager. But the marks that the Olympic heptathlete left on timers, in jump pits and in throwing fields in the mid-2000s will resonate forever in track and field circles.

The Collegiate Athlete Hall of Fame said so, enshrining Johnson-Powell as part of its inaugural class with the likes of Jesse Owens, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Steve Prefontaine and Wilma Rudolph.

The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association inducted Johnson-Powell and 29 other college greats earlier this month in Eugene, Oregon. Johnson-Powell became the first four-time NCAA champion in the heptathlon (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008) in addition to winning three consecutive indoor pentathlon NCAA titles (2006-08).

With her larger-than-life image on a banner outside Oregon’s Hayward Field and an award ceremony in which she shared the stage with Owens’ grandchildren, the significance of her career hit Johnson-Powell more than ever during the Hall of Fame induction week.

“People keep saying, ‘You did so many things,’ and I keep saying that I’m so honored and so blessed that I don’t even know what to say,” Johnson-Powell said. “I’m there with the GOATs (Greatest of All-Times). I’m like, ‘What did I do?’ People are like, ‘What do you mean?’ It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it because of how humbled I’ve been throughout my whole career.”

Johnson-Powell grew up in Yuma, Arizona, where her mother sent her to the track with her older sister to run off her unceasing energy.

When she qualified for the Junior Olympics in the 400-meter run in her first year, her coach kept trying her in more events. That eventually turned her into a 14-time state high school champion (four in high jump, four in long jump, three in triple jump and three in high hurdles).

Johnson-Powell went to Arizona State University with a five-year plan to compete in track and field and play basketball, but her multievent ability overwhelmed the multisport notion. It put her on a track to set the collegiate scoring record in the pentathlon (4,496 points) and rank third all-time in the heptathlon (6,276) while helping the Sun Devils to their last national championships (a 2007 indoor/outdoor sweep and 2008 indoor title).

“The determination, endurance, never-give-up mentality, hard efforts through the good and bad,” Johnson-Powell said of an era that culminated in competing but withdrawing for injury at the 2008 Summer Olympics. “It wasn’t all easy. None of it was easy. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

Johnson-Powell also got her moment on the scoreboard at the University of Oregon's track and field stadium.

“Life isn’t easy. But you wake up every day, give 110% effort and leave everything out on the track. You move on to the next day. I fell quite a few times, picked myself up and did it right the next time.”

Those are the lessons that have transferred into her GCU career, which began in 2012 when she asked Lopes track and field coach Tom Flood for a letter of recommendation that he kept.

“I feel Jackie has all the qualities that an admissions counselor should possess (great work ethic, team player, personal integrity),” Flood wrote.

Jackson-Powell meets with Flood’s student-athletes occasionally, and she has grown close with Flood, associated head coach Todd Lehman and assistant coach Chris Riggs.

“They have become family to me,” Johnson-Powell said.

“It was a great honor to get to see Jackie get inducted, with the star-studded initial class, into the Collegiate Track & Field Hall of Fame,” Flood said. “She is by far the most decorated female student-athlete in ASU history, and she has done a fantastic job working for us at GCU.

“As great of an athlete as Jackie was, she is an even better person and has done an amazing job as an admissions counselor and now as a regional manager, but I still wish she was on my coaching staff.”

Johnson-Powell was shocked when she received the call that she would be part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, but she turned speechless when she saw a list of idols, pioneers and superstars who made up the 30-person class.

Johnson-Powell's idol growing up was record-setting Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee (right).

“Even in the ceremony, I said that I don’t know if I ever will have the correct words to form sentences or paragraphs for how it really feels to be inducted with the idols that I looked up to, especially Jackie Joyner,” Johnson-Powell said. “She was my idol. She was the heptathlete and combined-events guru and had my initials. Since I was 9 and was told that I could be in the Olympics one day, I wanted to be like Jackie Joyner, and here I am being inducted with her.”

When it came to the induction, Johnson-Powell’s spotlight was every bit as a bright as Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis and others. Her banner hung between those of greats Merlene Ottey and Suzy Favor. Her image blanketed the stadium jumbotron.

Unlike her NCAA Championships titles, this honor could be shared with her husband, Banner Health services director Tyrone Powell Jr., and their five children – Amiyah, 14; Josiah, 11; Braxton, 6; Jayla, 3; and Zoeriah, 16 months.

The memories and lessons also come back to campus.

“I love GCU with all my heart,” Johnson-Powell said. “I pretty much bleed purple. GCU has done amazing things for me, my family and so many families. I’m glad that GCU selected me to be here because it is so fun to be part of this trailblazing school. It’s fun to say I’m part of this trailblazer. It’s like those trailblazers in track and field who helped open the door for me.”

Contact Paul Coro at 602-639-6841 or [email protected]

****

Related content:

GCU Today: Former Olympian gives boot camp a lift

Video: 2022 Collegiate Hall of Fame inductions

Calendar

Calendar of Events

M Mon

T Tue

W Wed

T Thu

F Fri

S Sat

S Sun

0 events,

0 events,

1 event,

1 event,

0 events,

2 events,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

1 event,

2 events,

0 events,

1 event,

1 event,

1 event,

1 event,

2 events,

1 event,

1 event,

4 events,

5 events,

6 events,

5 events,

7 events,

6 events,

2 events,

1 event,

GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 
Romans 8:28