By Brady Extin | Daily Reporter

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GREENFIELD – In the pool at the New Palestine Sectional, senior Norah Johnson was having one of her best days as a member of the Greenfield-Central swimming and diving team.

State-qualifying and record-breaking swims, and the Cougars’ 10th straight sectional title were all achievements that Johnson had just checked off her season goals’ list, but for the 2023 Daily Reporter Girls Swimming Athlete of the Year, the most rewarding thing from that day came outside the pool.

Johnson would come to find out later that a young girl on the Cougar Cubs (G-C’s younger swimming team), had seen her sectional performance and told her mom that was going to be her some day.

“That just warmed my heart so much, because I’ve been there. I was her at one point,” Johnson said. “I know how that is, and it’s just so inspiring.”

Along with all the achievements in the pool, it’s things like that Johnson will be remembered for around Greenfield-Central.

“It feels crazy. I am so blessed and honored to now see these younger kids looking up to me as a role model for them. That is another thing that drives me every single day to do what I do,” Johnson said. “I know that I am setting an example for others around me, and those younger than me, that can continue this legacy that we built. They are the future, so they need to have good examples ahead of them that can inspire them to reach their goals.”

Those younger kids have quite the role model to look up to, both in and out of the pool. To earn her second straight athlete of the year honor, Johnson put together one of the best Cougars seasons in recent memory.

She advanced to the state finals in all four of her events, broke school records, led G-C to its highest team state placement in program history and had the best individual state finish in program history.

Leading the Cougars to a 17th place team finish, Johnson finished 10th in both of her individual events, the 100-yard breaststroke and 100 freestyle. As a member of the 200 medley relay team, she placed 13th and as part of the 200 free team, she placed 15th.

In the preliminary rounds of the state finals, Johnson broke school records in all four of the events, 100 free (52.29 seconds), 100 breaststroke (1:04.70), her individual leg of the 200 free (24.21), and the 200 medley relay (1:48.37).

Along with those, she also is on the Greenfield-Central record board as a member of both the 200 free and the 400 free relays. And just the week prior to state, Johnson broke four sectional records.

“It was extraordinary, and more than I could have ever imagined,” Johnson said. “I have big goals every season and I always want to reach them, but this season I feel like I not only reached them but exceeded them. I’m really happy with how well this season ended.”

While the season was more than Johnson expected, it was something her coaches knew was coming.

“You have tons of kids come through that are great kids, but not everybody wants to be at that level that she is at. She’s just one of those kids who literally since a little kid, in the classroom and in the pool, everything she does is just at a different level. She just wants to excel,” Greenfield-Central head coach Emily Logan said. “Once she broke that 100 breaststroke record last year, it kind of opened up the floodgates. She realized that was possible, and just thought ‘if that’s possible what else can I do,’ and I think that’s why we saw such a great season this year.”

That record-breaking swim was, and is, still the main connection tying Johnson to both the past and future of Greenfield-Central swimming.

After breaking the 24-year-old breaststroke mark, Johnson got a call from somebody she looked up to, former record holder Andrea Stouder.

On the receiving end then, with the way her career finished, she’ll be the one making those calls in the future.

“She’s on our record board a few times now. Those people that Norah looked up to before, that’s going to be Norah for all these young kids coming up. They already look at her like that. We had kids who came to state because they wanted to see how she would do. They wanted to see what that was like because they want to follow in her footsteps,” Logan said. “Now that she is on the record board so many times, the goal for these kids is to be like ‘oh my god, you took Norah Johnson’s name off the record board.’ That’s the influence that she has on them. They know that she’s kind of a big deal, so they want to impress her.”

Being able to already embrace a role-model position is what makes Johnson so admired by her coaches and community.

“She’s one of those kids that will go up to the younger kids and say something if they have a good race. She just understands the foundation that it’s taken for this program to do as well as it has. We have to extend that hand to the younger kids so they understand,” Logan said. “She’s taught swimming lessons for a long time too, and the little kids maybe don’t understand the bigger deal that she is other than that’s their swimming lesson teacher, and she does a great job with that and giving back to the community.”

It’s not just the younger kids that Norah has left a lasting impression on, either, it’s her teammates and coaches, too. In a sport as grueling as swimming, rough days happen often, and Johnson is always the first to reach out and make sure everything is fine.

“As coaches there are times when you hit those moments where you’re just zapped of energy, and she’s one of the only kids who will come up and be like ‘how are you feeling’, and that’s something that as a coach a lot of kids don’t understand,” Logan said. “She just has a great heart for a kid. She’ll check on her teammates and be the first one to ask them how they’re doing if they’re having a bad day.”

And while they rely on Norah, she relies on them just as much and is the first person to tell you that everyone in her life is responsible for the senior season that she had.

“None of this would have been possible without so many people, my coaches, teammates, and especially my family,” Johnson said. “They really helped push me to become the person that I am today. It definitely takes some self motivation but they all helped me get through the tough days, and that’s what’s most important.”

Those tough days happen when you push and drive yourself as much as Johnson does, but according to Logan, her ability to learn how to control that over her four years was one of the biggest keys to this season.

“She works hard in practice, literally every day. She’s hitting the wall hard, and is out of breath. She’s an excellent example of someone you point to on your team and say if you’re not doing what she’s doing, then you’re not doing it right,” Logan said. “I remember when she was little, everything had to be perfect, and she just learned over the years to manage that. She’s realized over the years that you want to strive for excellence, but understanding that you don’t always achieve it. But if you’re striving for it, you’re going to get to a much better place.”

When future swimmers, students, parents, and coaches enter the Greenfield-Central pool they’ll see the name Norah Johnson all over the record boards, but what they won’t know is just how much effort it took for her to get to that point, and the impact that she has made on so many people.

And that’s the legacy that Johnson has left on the Cougars swimming program.

“I’m aware of the legacy that I am continuing with Greenfield-Central. Ten years is an amazing stretch (of sectional titles) that I got to be a part of the past four years. I want people to know that it is possible, and you can do it. But nothing is given and guaranteed, you have to work for it,” Johnson said. “You always have to stay dedicated, committed and focused, and that will take you far in life. Swimming doesn’t define me, but I love it. It teaches me so much about myself.”