Personal and athletic growth have always been closely intertwined for Lexi Johnson.
En route to becoming one of the top high-school volleyball attackers in the city, the recent graduate of Lockerby Composite managed to overcome a fair bit of self-doubt, leaving her on much stronger footing as she prepares to tackle the Forensic Science program at Laurentian University in the fall.
Blessed with well above average height - Johnson currently stands 6'2" tall - the Lively native seemed like a natural fit for the world of sports. "Throughout my whole life, my parents have been really big on allowing me to try new things, test the waters to see where my interests are," she said.
Dance lessons and some dabbling in both soccer and basketball would eventually give way to her first shot at the one sport she would eventually call her own. "I tried out for volleyball in grade four, because Brooke Smith was very interested in it, and she lived down the road from me and we were good friends at the time," said Johnson.
"I didn't make the team - I was very uncoordinated." By the time grade seven rolled around, the well-spoken eldest of two children in the family had backed away completely from athletic involvement. "I was very tall and unsure of what to do with my limbs," said Johnson with a smile.
"It was difficult for me to do things that many of the kids found easy. Then (Lively elementary teacher) Eric Bacon kind of "voluntold" me to join the team, and I am so happy for it now."
"Around grade seven or so, I went from being 5'6" to being almost six feet tall. It was a huge, huge jump over a short period of time. There were a lot of things I needed to catch up on. I am really thankful for volleyball - it allowed me the time to catch up."
Slowly, the positive elements of her involvement in volleyball would begin to reveal themselves. "I think it was the fact that I wasn't doing it solo, I wasn't alone," said Johnson. "I liked that I had the team concept."
"I was being taught by people who were more educated on the sport, teaching me, and they also accepted me as well. They understood that there were certain things that I just couldn't do at the time." While her size certainly served as a clear attribute to her team, the reality is that there is much more to volleyball to simply being tall and standing at the net.
"When I began playing, one of my biggest issues was simply serving over the net," she said. "I could not do it. I didn't know why, there was no good reason - I just couldn't do it. It took a little while, but I figured it out. It helped me develop that sort of confidence from being able to do that successfully, not just being able to get it over the net, but being able to serve well at a competitive level."
In many ways, this example summarizes Johnson's journey in sport, a circular mix of evolving self-esteem, established on the court, which flows over to every aspect of her life. "The highlight of volleyball for me is the self-confidence it has given me," she said.
"Because I was so awkward and lanky and unsure of what to do, I didn't think I was able to do those things. I'm now a lot more confident outside of sports, because of sports." Yet despite being recruited by various post-secondary varsity teams, Johnson has opted to bypass another step forward in her volleyball career, at least for now.
"At this point, I have goals in my life that I want to work on, so I'm going to focus on those more than on volleyball," she said. "I feel like I'm going to take life as it comes to me." And based largely on the many benefits that sport has provided, Johnson will take life head on, armed with the self-assurance to deal with whatever comes her way.