Kelsey Joson jumping in, helping outWhile investigating volunteer opportunities with a fellow University of Minnesota student-athlete, Kelsey Joson decided to take things a bit further.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
While investigating volunteer opportunities with a fellow University of Minnesota student-athlete, Kelsey Joson decided to take things a bit further.
Joson, a 2008 graduate of Park, has started an organization called Gopher Global – an official 501 (c)(3) non-profit to “promote the importance of exercise, nutrition, and education globally through service in the community.”
Gopher Global is a collaboration of University of Minnesota athletes and alumni who are determined make a positive impact on communities.
While at Park, Joson was a standout in track and field and volleyball. She was an All-State triple jumper four times for the Wolfpack, competing in the state meet four years in a row, finishing in second place in each of her last three years. She received a scholarship to the University of Minnesota and is currently on the Gophers’ track team.
After talking to University of Minnesota assistant director of student-athlete welfare Anissa Lightner and Gopher football player Moses Alipate, Joson decided to start Gopher Global to try and gather all of the University of Minnesota student-athletes together in volunteer efforts moving forward.
“I have a passion for giving back to people and helping people. I feel like that was what I was called to do,” Joson said. “I think there are a lot of athletes that have that same type of passion and want to help.”
The inspiration to help others came after Joson worked with HopeKids — a program that provides events, activities and support for families who have a child with a life-threatening medical condition — Joson said.
After working with HopeKids, Joson decided she wanted to use my degree in kinesiology to start her own business implementing physical activities with special-needs children and adults.
“We volunteered with HopeKids and I really liked that. That’s what inspired what I want to do with my career,” Joson said. “When the idea of Gopher Global came about I figured I might as well do it now and learn how to do it for my career. This way I’ll know how to do it again for my own personal business.”
Park activities director Phil Kuemmel first learned about what Joson was doing with Gopher Global when he ran into her working out at Park during the summer.
“Kelsey is just one of those great kids,” Kuemmel said. “It was really, really obvious to me that she cared a lot about giving back to the community. She knows a lot of people and loved the idea of getting the Gophers out in the community and getting them involved. You can tell she cares a lot about giving back.”
After graduation, Joson plans on passing the Gopher Global torch to another Minnesota student-athlete while starting her own organization for her career.
“They are two separate things. But, it’s nice to be able to start this one now while I’m in college and when I’m out of college leave this one in the hands of another athlete that’s passionate about it and work on my own business,” Joson said.
In addition to helping others and learning from the experience, Joson said she another reason she began Gopher Global is because she loves a challenge.
“I don’t like to say no to challenges. I like to beat them and overcome them,” Joson said. “All I needed was someone to tell me that I can’t, so I did. From that point on I’ve been trucking along and doing what I can do.”
Since starting Gopher Global, Joson’s main focus has been on fundraising to help with the cost of becoming an official non-profit organization. She said a number of alumni and corporate sponsors have jumped on board to help and have become mentors.
Along with Lightner, Joson said she has worked with University of Minnesota greats Trent Tucker, Leo Lewis and Andrea Smith and Minnesota administrators Heath Senour and Peyton Owens III.
“I’ve learned a lot from them,” Joson said. “They’ve been through this kind of stuff already. Talking with them and learning what I need to do has helped me a lot. They’ve been my motivators behind this and resources to go to. Without them I would have had no idea how to do this at all.”
Up next, Joson has a Gopher Global service trip to Chicago planned for June 8. There she said she’ll work along with Chicago Cares — an Illinois-based volunteer organization that identifies needs and mobilizes thousands of volunteers to address them — to help renovate Chicago schools.
“We’re going to repaint them, reorganize the library, fix desks, do some landscaping and do things that need to be done, but haven’t been done yet,” Joson said. “This trip is not only for athletes it’s also for administration and alumni in the athletic department. Basically everyone in the athletic department will be able to go on this trip.”
Kuemmel, for one, is impressed, but isn’t surprised with what Joson is doing outside the world of athletics.
“To me, two things stick out with her,” Kuemmel said. “No. 1 is just wanting to give back and remembering her roots. She has a strong sense of where she came from. The other thing that stands out is her work ethic and her willingness to work hard.”
On the track, Joson landed a season-best leap of 39-3 at last spring’s Big Ten Championships, which ranks 10th in Gopher history. However, she is currently out of action with an injured Achilles, but plans on returning to the track for her senior season next year.
“It’s not ridiculously bad, but in order for me to be able to jump it just needs to be better,” Joson said. “I want to take this downtime to focus on school and Gopher Global. I have one more year, so it’ll be OK. I should be back next fall for training. I just want to get better and get these other aspects of my life moving forward.”