Putting It In Perspective


By Neil Stover

A collegiate national champion, an Olympic qualifier, a world champion and the daughter of a gold medalist. With those credentials peppering a résumé it would be easy to sacrifice perspective and humility.  But despite all of her achievements, professional beach volleyball and former UCLA volleyball player Jenny Johnson Jordan understands all of her athletic accomplishments fit into just one aspect of her life.

The daughter of two-time Olympic decathlon medalist Rafer Johnson, Johnson Jordan, 38, learned humility at a young age. She credits her father's lead-by-example demeanor for instilling a sense of humility in her achievements.

"I learned from him at an early age to be humble and appreciative for whatever blessings you have in your life," Johnson Jordan said.

Given all of his international success, remaining levelheaded is easier said than done. Johnson, also a standout at UCLA, won a silver medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Games. But Johnson Jordan said her father never displayed his medals or trophies. Instead, he decorated the walls of their house with his children's awards. All this, Johnson Jordan said, contributed to teaching the life-lesson that actions speak louder than words.

"One thing I really appreciate about him is his humility with what he accomplished," Johnson Jordan said. "And I think of any lesson that is really the biggest thing he taught me, without ever really having to say anything, which I feel is more powerful."

Johnson Jordan carries these values with her throughout both her professional and personal lives. While she still plays beach volleyball professionally, Johnson Jordan says her children - she has a daughter, Jaylen (9), and a son, Kory (6) - help her maintain focus on the relative importance of sports.

"I know that having kids helped even my perspective about sports and its place in my life," Johnson Jordan said. "You know, I could have a terrible tournament, a terrible match, but as soon as I go home and rush off the court and see my kids, it puts things in perspective pretty quickly."

Perspective is not the only alteration in her life a result of having children. Johnson Jordan has also had to readjust how she allocated her time.

"My time training on my sport had to be more concentrated and more focused (after having children)," she said. "I think what I would normally get done in three or four hours I was then getting done in two hours. I'm just making better use of my time.

But while motherhood allows Johnson Jordan to keep her perspective on volleyball, volleyball reciprocates the favor on motherhood.

"You have your daily goals and desires and then you have overall what you're trying to achieve, and I think that's something volleyball has definitely helped me with in those areas," Johnson Jordan said.

Along with family, Johnson Jordan remains grounded largely because of her strong faith. In May 2010, she was inducted into the Athletes in Action Hall of Faith. The award honors those in the athletic community who "best exemplify outstanding character, integrity, and faith -- whether on the field of competition, in the home, or in the community." And with fellow inductees like John Wooden, it is an honor she certainly does not take lightly.

"Being inducted in to the Hall of Faith, for me, obviously had something to do with my athletic career, but I think it had more to do with my faith and how I bring my faith and sport together," she said. "Being a fellow Bruin, for me, John Wooden has always been somebody I look up to and admire. He was definitely somebody that whenever I can be included in his company in any way, it's an honor."

Even with that elite company, the induction humbles Johnson Jordan rather than inflate her ego.

"[Athletes in Action] helped me to not be so high strung, but I think that having that perspective with my faith helped me to get a better balance on the perspective of athletics in my life," she said. "I really started to see it even more so as a gift to be able to do what I've been able to do with volleyball."

With as focused and grounded as she is, Johnson Jordan's athletic achievements often go understated. But that is not to say she does not take pride in what she has accomplished.

As a student-athlete at UCLA, Johnson Jordan played on the 1991 national championship team. She said the opportunity to play with and against the best players in the country helped her reach her full potential.

It was also at UCLA where Johnson Jordan picked up the game of beach volleyball. Despite growing up near the beach in Sherman Oaks, Calif., she said she never had any desire to learn the game. But once she got to UCLA, she said the other players encouraged her to start and helped her realize she could parlay it into a playing career after graduation.

That playing career has now spanned 15 years and several continents alongside partner Annett Davis. The pair has won several tournaments and even qualified for the 2000 Sydney Games, where they placed fifth. Despite not medaling, the Sydney Games fulfilled a dream come true for Johnson Jordan.

"From a very young age, I always wanted to go to the Olympics, I just never really had an idea of how I would get there," she said. "But I think overall it was definitely one of the highlights of my career."

In a career full of impressive feats, Johnson Jordan said it is not easy to separate one specific highlight as being the best.

"I think at different times of my life, different moments were significant for different reasons," she said.

But to Johnson Jordan, it is all about keeping perspective. Because in the grand scheme of things, she said, all of those athletic highlights comprise just a small place atop her life mantle.

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