50 Years of Women’s Athletics at Princeton Book Excerpt on Vietta Johnson
Vietta Johnson’s contributions as a Princeton athlete came in sprints that lasted barely more than 10 seconds at a time. Her post-graduate contributions to society for the last nearly 40 years have been more of a marathon, one that she continues to run at an inspirational pace.
Johnson, a member of the early Princeton women’s track and field dynasty who went on to Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health and then to a career devoted to providing medical care in underserved communities, has been named the 2021 recipient of the Class of 1967 PVC Citizen Athlete Award. The award is presented annually by the Princeton Varsity Club for selfless and noble contributions to sport and society.
“I am thrilled to present this award to Vietta on behalf of the Princeton Varsity Club and the entire Department of Athletics,” says Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan. “She is an incredibly impressive person who lives life with great passion and enthusiasm and clearly with high energy. She is also the personification of our ‘Be A Tiger’ values and the epitome of what it means to ‘Achieve, Serve, Lead.’ She’s such a worthy recipient of this award.”
Johnson, a member of the Class of 1982, is a trailblazing orthopedic surgeon based in Chicago who has served as a mentor to so many who have followed through the doors she helped to open. Her career has been spent providing healthcare to many who otherwise might not have had access, with a huge percentage of her patients on some sort of public assistance.
“This award makes me feel that what I’ve been through and what I have done matters,” Johnson says. “I want to thank Mollie and the Princeton Varsity Club for recognizing me with this amazing honor. To be able to be honored this way during a celebration of the next generation of Princeton athletes reminds me of how I cherish my own time at Princeton as an athlete and student/scholar and especially the relationships I had with my coaches and teammates. Here’s a Tiger cheer and best wishes to the Class of 2021.”
She grew up in Brooklyn, down the street from the Fort Greene housing projects. The daughter of two educators, she tested into New York City’s No. 1 public high school, Stuyvesant High School, where she ran on the track team as well. From Stuyvesant she came to Princeton, arriving in 1978, the first year of varsity women’s track and field.
At Princeton, she was a sprinter and became a hurdler and was a part of Ivy League Heptagonal championships as a freshman, sophomore and junior outdoors, with a best individual finish a third-place in the 100 hurdles as a sophomore. There was no indoor Heps for the women until her junior year, but Princeton won that one and the one her senior year as well. Princeton would win outdoor Heps her senior year, but she wouldn’t be a part of it after a career-ending ankle injury she suffered while practicing the hurdles.
“Princeton track and field is so proud of Vietta,” says Peter Farrell, who was Johnson’s coach. “Probably the biggest perk of coaching at Princeton is hearing of the great things team alums accomplish after leaving here. Vietta Johnson has done so much for the underserved of Southside Chicago. She is an incredible representative of the program.”
When she graduated from Harvard Medical School Public Health School and then ultimately finished residency in New York City, she become only the 10th Black woman to become an orthopedic surgeon in the United States.
Her list of contributions to society is enormous. She began her work in often-ignored areas in New York City right out of residency, working at both Queens and Elmhurst Hospitals. When she moved to Chicago, she worked on the South Side in private practice and then at Provident Hospital of Cook County, also on the South Side and a county hospital. She spent nine years as the chair of orthopedics and podiatry before moving on in 2015 to St. Bernard Hospital, a safety net hospital in which approximately 85% of the patient population is insured by the government and/or state. She is the Vice-Chair of the Department of Surgery, the elected member at-large for the Medical Executive Committee and the lead physician for wound care and management.
In addition, she has also been one of the driving forces behind a program called “Hailey’s Gift.” Named for a colleague’s daughter who was born with several orthopedic abnormalities and who passed away at four months old, “Hailey’s Gift” saw Johnson lead the way by performing surgeries on children with spinal issues and orthopedic pediatric issues, as well as nerve decompression surgeries on diabetic patients, in the Bahamas. Often working 14-hour days, Johnson mobilized a group of other surgeons who also participated, and over a seven-year period “Hailey’s Gift” delivered approximately $15 million worth of goods and services.
Johnson has also been a mentor to countless others who have followed in her footsteps, including with the Nth Dimension, a pipeline program that assists traditionally underrepresented people into the field of orthopedic surgery through help on applications, presentations and navigating the profession. She has also presented to the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington on issues related to diabetes among the Black population.
She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, a service organization, as well as a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ.
“My greatest gift and accomplishment is my daughter Arnai Johnson,” she says. “I’d also like to mention my husband and classmate David Campt. And I also need to thank my mother Argie Johnson. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her.”
Vietta Johnson will accept the Class of 1967 PVC Citizen-Athlete Award during the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Award Banquet virtual program this Thursday, May 13th, with the broadcast beginning at 8:00 p.m. EST. Click here to learn more about the broadcast and the awards that will be part of the program.