Lemoore High School student hopes to take her running talents 'Down Under'

By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore High's Azalea Johnson-Neal hopes to fund her trip to Australia to take part in the Down Under Sports program where she will run cross country.
Lemoore High's Azalea Johnson-Neal hopes to fund her trip to Australia to take part in the Down Under Sports program where she will run cross country.

Seventeen-year-old Azalea Johnson-Neal is an exceptional athlete, but there’s much more to this personable young lady than hearty lungs and a pair of talented legs. She’s also a good student with a natural inclination to get involved – and a very strong will to succeed.

There is little doubt about her innate natural talent for running. The talented Lemoore High School senior can run circles around most of her opponents, whether on the nearest cross country course, or as a top competitor on the school’s varsity track team.

Support Azalea through Go Fund Me 

Support Azalea through Down Under Sports

Now she’s keen on taking her considerable talents all the way to Australia where she hopes to represent her state as a member of the 2017 California Pacific Conference Cross Country Team. The team is just one of many sports that will compete as part of “Down Under Sports,” a program founded in 1989 by New Zealander George O’Scanlon, who fell in love with athletics, especially American football as a young man growing up in far-away New Zealand.

O’Scanlon started the Down Under Bowl, which ultimately led to the Down Under Hoops Classic and then the Down Under International Games. Over the years, thousands of youngsters have participated in Down Under Sports programs. This year’s Down Under Sports program will include competition in wrestling, football, cross country, golf, track and field, basketball and volleyball.

Seems like a perfect fit for Azalea, who not only excels on the grassy knolls of Hickey Park, but also in the classrooms at Lemoore High where she is an excellent student. “She’s a complete individual,” said her cross-country coach, Mario Gonzales, a longtime coach and art teacher at Lemoore High School. “She is one of the brightest, nicest kids out there.”

Sponsorship Letter for Azalea.jpg

Mario has coached Azalea since she began running at the varsity level as a freshman. “She’s been our MVP for the past four years,” he said. “She is a fantastic runner, and as a freshman and sophomore won the West Yosemite League championship. She was always the first one at practice and usually one of the last to leave. Azalea’s physical presence out there was very loud.”

Azalea is the daughter of Myeisha and Eddie Neal, and the biological daughter of Fetedrick Johnson. She has three siblings: Michael, 12, Joshua, 10, and Christian, 3.

Azalea, when not hunched over her nightly homework, is busy raising money for her trip. She needs about $6,000 – it’s a long flight to Australia. She’s currently seeking donations and hopes to raise enough to make the trip, which departs the United States for Queensland, Australia on Tuesday, June 27. Each contestant needs to raise money to cover the cost of the nine-day competition.

Azalea has her fingers in many places. She is a past member of LHS Future Farmers of America, and is active in GSA, and Game Club. She has volunteered at the Lemoore Police Department, and in her spare time sings in her church choir. She is also a LHS Student of the Month recipient.

Azalea is currently in her final season of track and field, and she’s not on the track, she’s working on her senior portfolio, preparing for graduation, and applying to colleges.

Azalea’s plans include studying environmental science in college. Her favorite classes at LHS are chemistry, English, and art. In her rare spare time, she’ll open a good book or simply hang out with her family.

"This is a really great opportunity,” said Azalea.  “As I represent California on Team USA, I want to make everyone in my hometown proud."

She credits her family for instilling in her a respect for education and an appetite for athletics. "I am so thankful for my parents, especially my mother. My mom is really like a team mom to our cross-country team. She travels to our meets and she encourages us.

"My parents have taught me to be just as successful off the course as I am on the course. I use what I have learned from running to make me a better person."

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