Nicole Johnston is 5 feet tall and is famous for kicking – with both feet at once — a sealskin-covered ball no bigger than an apple as it dangled at a height of 6 feet, 6 inches.
She did that in 1989 at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, setting a world record in the two-foot high kick that stood for 25 years.
Johnston learned Native games like the two-foot high kick, the stick pull and the ear pull while growing up in Nome.
She went on to become one of the most decorated athletes in Native sports history with more than 100 medals from WEIO, the Arctic Winter Games and the Native Youth Olympics.
She also became one of Native sport’s most passionate and effective ambassadors. She has served as a board member and chairwoman for WEIO, which under her direction ran smoothly and on time. As a lead official at NYO, she travels the state teaching the games to children.
In her prime, Johnston was a threat to win almost anything, from the spectacular jumping events that reward athleticism to the endurance events that test pain thresholds to the ones that demand strength.
She was also as tough as they come.
In 1996 at WEIO, Johnston wore sweatpants over a knee brace so opponents wouldn’t know she was competing with a sprained knee. She won the two-foot high kick with a leap of 6-4, two inches shy of her world record.
In 1997 at WEIO, out of shape after giving birth to her daughter a few months earlier, she delivered a winning kick of 5-10 to win her 12th straight gold ulu in her specialty.
The medals and the records made Johnston famous. Her commitment to sharing and preserving the games made her special, a torch-bearer who passes the flame with grace and generosity.
– Beth Bragg