Some of Sarah Johnson’s most important work takes place off the Bowdoin campus, but still among the pines. Sarah “SJ” Johnson ’13 is one the Bowdoin Outing Club’s (BOC) two assistant directors and is responsible for the Leadership Training program that trains students to lead outdoor trips. While Johnson jumped straight from being an involved student member of the BOC to the position of assistant director after graduation, her path was never set in stone.
“By sophomore spring I had taken 16 classes in 15 departments,” said Johnson. 

She eventually settled on a government and environmental studies coordinate major, but it is her passion for new experiences that made her a winning candidate for the assistant director position.

Johnson grew up in Gloucester, Mass., in a house that has been in her family for six generations, and feels a strong connection to her heritage. However, Johnson still loves adventuring far and wide. 

Her mother’s family is from Minnesota and she grew up attending a family camp there. As she got older, she attended Camp Widjiwagan, an adventure camp that led her to the Arctic. Years later as a counselor she led the same expedition along the Coppermine River. It was at Camp Widjiwagan that Johnson developed her affinity for paddling, although she says she “learned everything else at Bowdoin.”

During her junior year Johnson participated in SEA Semester, an off-campus study program at sea. 

“I loved being at the helm, especially when there were huge waves,” said Johnson. “When the ship dipped down and the waves were rising it was incredible.”
A lover of heights and adrenaline, Johnson does know her limits. 

“I have never tried base jumping or anything like that. I’m very wary of pushing human limits beyond what your body really can do,” Johnson said. “I think a perception people have is that people in the Outing Club are really intense and can be intimidating, but I too, am afraid of many outdoor things.”

Her ability to balance exploration with healthy caution is one of the most essential skills in her job. She is responsible for instilling this same sense of balance in future leaders so they can make smart decisions. 

At the conclusion of the Leadership Training program, Johnson leads groups of students into New England and sometimes Canada for their culminating expedition, leaving them largely to their own devices. 

While Johnson devotes much of her time to planning and going on outdoor adventures, she has taken up wood burning—scorching words and images into driftwood and giving the pieces as gifts. She has also begun to play the mandolin, hopeful that one day she may be reunited with the on-campus band Jesus and The Kid.

Perhaps her favorite pastime, though, is hanging out with her friends in the Bowdoin community.

“I haven’t really thought about my life in quantifiable accomplishments, but I think I’ve made a lot of friends in a whole bunch of different settings,” said Johnson. “I’ve had a lot of really amazing people in my life, so I’m pretty proud of that,”.

When asked about her personal challenges, Johnson cited baking, cooking and anything that involves being “a details person.” However, her ability to ferry across and descend raging whitewater proves her mastery of precision in motion. Johnson also admits she has a fear of being elbowed in the face inside tents, but claims it is her only phobia.

On the topic of conquering fears, Johnson mentioned the film “Pretty Faces,” which was recently screened on campus. It is a film about female skiers and the challenges they face as they take on slopes over 5,000 feet high. 

“There’s a scene where there’s this incredible face and this woman keeps chanting, ‘Conquer the fear; that’s why you’re here; conquer the fear; that’s why you’re here.’ And I think that’s a pretty cool message to take with you into whatever you’re afraid of,” said Johnson. “Conquering fear is hard, but it’s why we’re here—to try.” 
Johnson will be assistant director for another year, but beyond that, she’d prefer to leave things uncharted. 

“I appreciate the people doing the big picture work [in government and education]; we need those people, but I’ve discovered in Brunswick a wonderful community of people and I think that would be a wonderful way to spend life,” said Johnson “Maybe I’ll continue to walk down this road and try a model that focuses more on education than recreation, maybe a semester school. I’d like to keep my efforts local and within my community.”