Former Griswold standout Joanna Topham didn’t figure she would continue running in college until her senior year in high school.
Despite a great pedigree — her sister, Rebekah, had won several state championships for the Tigers — she had never competed at the state track meet until her senior year. She did, however, make the state cross-country meet three of her four years in high school for the Tigers, going as an alternate her sophomore year but not competing.
She ended up getting a number of offers, and accepted a spot on the cross country and track teams at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo.
Now, a couple of months after she put the wraps on her sophomore season at Hawkeye, Topham is ready to take the next step in her career, competing for a Division I school somewhere “nearby.” As of last week, she had yet to officially announce where she was planning to attend.
But wherever she decides to attend, they’ll be getting an athlete who has 14 school records and six all-American honors.
“I didn’t know I wanted to continue running until my senior year, when everyone was sending me offers,” said Topham, who was home-schooled and graduated with the class of 2017. “I thought I should go the community college route and try it out.
“It’s led to many accomplishments and achievements I would have never been able to accomplish otherwise,” she said.
Her all-American honors include a pair in cross country, where she was 38th as a freshman and 22nd as a sophomore. The top 40 individual placewinners at the national meet earn all-American honors.
Reflecting on that freshman year national meet, Topham pointed out the race was run at Lakeside Park in Fort Dodge, the same site as the Iowa state cross country meet.
“It was familiar to me and my teammate (Shea Dahlstrom of Pekin), and we were just complaining about it, like, ‘We’ve got to run it again?’” she said. “But it was an advantage because we knew the course and came in handy.”
Her four all-American honors in track came this past spring. Two of those were in the indoor season, the 4x800 and the distance medley, and the two outdoor came in the 4x800 and 3,000-meter steeplechase. Those honors were based on top-eight finishes.
The foundation of Topham’s success in track was laid back in her senior year of high school, when she qualified in three events in Iowa Class 1A for Griswold: the 800-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races, the latter two where she placed fourth and eighth, respectively.
She remembers the 1,500-meter race well.
“I started out in the back of the pack ... but as the laps continued I passed (the other runners), then I had three in front of me,” she said. “The last 300 meters, I took the lead and passed Janette Schraft (then competing for East Mills), and for a moment I thought, ‘Did I just take the lead (on Schraft)?’”
As she’s ready to move on to the next phase in her track career, she’s excited to have had the opportunity to compete with the best runners, to have qualified for the national meet and earn all-American honors. She’s still undecided as to a major, but suggested it will probably involve sports in some way.
“I’ve just improved time so much from the training my coach gave me,” she said. “You’ve got to be really disciplined and manage your time, never give up and keep fighting til the end.”
It’s been interesting also to have run with fellow Griswold teammate David Thompson, the Iowa State-bound standout who also had a multi-all-American year at Hawkeye.
“He’s really stepped up over this past year, and I would say he took the college level more seriously his sophomore,” she said. “I remember talking last year to him and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue on but he committed to ISU and I’m excited to see what he’ll accomplish.”
Topham has also learned a lot from big sister Rebekah, who has had an outstanding career at Wichita State.
“I never was interested and never loved (running) until my senior year,” she said. “Her passion was really encouraging to me and the way that she carried herself and dedicated herself toward running was really motivating.”