From red shoes to gold medal - dreams come true

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 09/09/2014
Sally Johnston
JOHN HAWKINS/ Fairfax NZ

WHERE IT ALL STARTED: Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sally Johnston walks through a guard of honour at her former high school, Southland Girls’.

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The last time Sally Johnston walked into Southland Girls' High School, she wore red shoes; this time she wore a red ribbon with a gold medal.

The Commonwealth Games gold medallist was welcomed back to her former high school with a guard of honour as she strolled back through the school gates.

"I am not wearing my red shoes. I will be in trouble now, won't I," she joked.

But Johnston had something much more important with her - the medal she had been trying to score for years.

The Southlander shot her way to gold in the women's 50m prone rifle shooting at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July, making her dream a reality.

That gold medal, she told the hundreds of girls, was a dream that started when she was a teenager sitting in the classrooms of the school.

It took her 31 years of persistence, four Commonwealth Games and a lot of hard work to finally win gold.

The government employee balances working fulltime for the Ministry for Primary Industries with relentlessly training for competitions.

Shooting was an expensive sport and, with no government funding, she needed to work fulltime, she said.

Johnston grew up watching her parents shoot, though she wasn't overwhelmed by the sport.

"I was bored out of my tree because it is a little bit like watching paint dry sometimes."

But in 1983, aged 13, she got behind the rifle herself and was hooked.

With friends, who she convinced to take up the sport, they started the high school's shooting team and quickly dominated the southern high school competitions.

"I tried lots of different sports and some of them I was OK at and some of them I was really bad at but nothing really spun my wheels until I got behind a rifle."

Her sister, Helen Johnston, was also a natural behind the barrel and still holds an Oceania Games record.

But where do you aim when you have already conquered the sporting world? Well, Johnston has her sights on the next Commonwealth Games, she told the girls.

"I reckon five is a good number."

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- The Southland Times

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