Five-time All American and World record-holding Paralympian are just some of the attributes that describe two recent inductees into Occidental College’s Track and Field Hall of Fame, Jeh Johnson (‘17) and Delaney Nolin (‘17).
Both Nolin and Johnson said they came to the sport later than most runners. Coach Tyler Yamaguchi, a sprinter coach at Occidental College since 2008, said that Johnson was not heavily recruited since he only started running track his senior year of high school, but once he started running at Occidental it was clear he had a lot of potential.
“I was drawn to track late in my high school years and wanted to continue that newly found passion when I arrived at Occidental,” Johnson, who is currently deployed with the Coast Guard, said via email. “I spoke to Tyler and Rob when I arrived for my tour of Oxy and they were more than happy to allow me to walk on. They sold me on joining the team.”
Nolin, who has cerebral palsy, said she played volleyball for most of her life and joined track and field her junior year of high school. Nolin transferred to Occidental College her sophomore year from the University of Vermont and said that she joined track looking for the environment and community that was familiar to her from high school.
“The coaches were really supportive about it,” Nolin said. “They told me all they cared about was that I was a positive influence and that I was getting better while I was on the team.”
Yamaguchi said Nolin’s journey on track and field was a journey of self-improvement.
“She was always willing to try anything. I asked her to do any events. She was always game for it, and I just absolutely adore that about her, “Yamaguchi said. “And she would often challenge herself, like when she set the Paralympic record in the 800. She wanted to do that; I didn’t even suggest it.”
Nolin, who traditionally ran the 200 and 400-meter races, said that she looked at the Paralympic T38 800-meter world record and thought it was achievable, but did not tell Yamaguchi so he wouldn’t get his hopes up. Nolin beat the previous record holder by nearly three seconds.
Connor Pendleton (‘18), a teammate and friend of both Johnson and Nolin, said he ran track all four years at Occidental and also ran the 4×100 and 4×400-meter relay races with Johnson.
“Jeh is basically my brother,” Pendleton said. “I came to Oxy when I was a senior in high school on a recruiting trip for track. He was kind of responsible for me for the day, and he’s kind of the guy that sold me on coming to school.”
Yamaguchi said that Johnson’s leadership was evident in the way he loved his teammates and tended to perform better in relay races than individual events. According to Pendleton, both Johnson and Nolin were sources of inspiration for him on the team, and Pendleton would always see them cheering him on as he ran his leg of the relay.
“Jeh absolutely took care of business at meets,” Pendleton said. “He was also a little crazy in the fact that whenever we would finish a workout, he would always look at us and say, ‘You guys want to do one more?’ Delaney is kind of the same way. Sometimes her practices looked a little bit different than ours, and she would never make any excuses. She would never let anything limit her, which was really, really inspiring.”
Coach Yamaguchi said that a selection committee for the Hall of Fame meets annually to review a running list of those who have eligibility.
“Both Jeh and Delaney were first ballot Hall of Famers, which means 2023 was the first year that they were eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The rule is you have to have graduated five years ago in order to be inducted,” Yamaguchi said. “Delaney is so obvious because she is an American champion in the T35 division, and she’s a world record holder. When it comes to Jeh, he’s on the conference record-holding 4×4 team, five time All-American. I mean, you’re not going to find many more decorated athletes.”
Nolin and Johnson said they were honored to be inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame and that they carry lessons from their time as athletes at Occidental into their current lives.
“I am still in disbelief that the college decided to induct me into the Hall of Fame. The impact that the track and field program had on me will last a lifetime,” said Johnson. “The lessons I learned on the Bill Henry track prepared me for some of the most challenging situations I would face as a military officer — specifically, leading a team through seemingly impossible tasks to the finish line.”
Nolin is a PhD student at USC studying marine microbiology while continuing training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, and she said that her goal is to qualify for the Paralympics next year.
“Track allows you to find an inner strength that you maybe didn’t know was there at first,” said Nolin. “It allows you to learn about relying on and supporting people. It helps you build a personal and communal strength that sets a foundation to carry with you.”
Contact Ava LaLonde at firstname.lastname@example.org.