Words by Aaron Boettcher
Jouen Chang could outrun anyone on the soccer field in Grade 8. This is when Chang found her talent.
It was soon after Grade 8 when she came to the realization that soccer might not be her thing, but it revealed to her a different love: running. Focusing on track and field the following year, she really grew to love the sport.
Three years later, and somewhat unaware at the time, but Chang’s path to Trinity Western was being paved.
While competing at the BC High School Track & Field Championships in her Grade 11 year, Chang was given a card from the Trinity Western coaching staff. At the time, she did not think much of it. She was mostly just focused on running for Credo Christian High School. It was not until the tail end of Grade 12 when Chang started looking into running at a university level.
“I didn’t think about it until April of Grade 12 when everyone was talking about what schools they were going to,” Chang says. “Then I thought ‘Shoot, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.’”
Then, she remembered the recruitment card from Grade 11 and sent an email to the coach to see if there was a spot for her. Indeed, there was.
“That was when I decided I was going to come to (TWU) for track and field and cross country.”
When coming into Trinity Western Chang took a little bit to adjust to the different type of training that she was doing now compared to high school.
“In my first year of university, I was shocked at how much volume of running we had to do.”
Not only were there longer and more frequent runs, but there was also strength training and injury prevention that she had never done in the past. For Chang, while it was surprising, it was also exciting.
“There are so many more factors than just running for fun.”
On top of the adjustment to a different level of the sport, there was also a new feeling that Chang had and that was the team atmosphere that came with joining TWU.
“In high school I didn’t have a close track team, but with university you are with the same people all the time,” she says. “Running with people makes it way easier (and) it makes time go by much faster.”
Chang credits her teammates for pushing her when times are hard or when she isn’t feeling the drive to run.
“The team also keeps you accountable,” Chang says. “If you have friends who want to run early in the morning (or) if you wake up and it’s raining, or you are really busy, and you don’t want to run, you can’t let them down.”
University sports are often accompanied by a high level of stress and emotions. With a whirlwind of things going on – including, amongst other things, school, strength training and running – managing those emotions is critical. Since Chang was young, she has dealt with a great level of stress, anxiety and depression. Running comes as not only as a sport she is passionate about but also a way to deal with the stress that comes from school.
“Sometimes after a long stressful day at school, going for a run will help me forget about it,” she says.
Both teammates Jenifer Shannon (Burnaby, B.C.) and Mirelle Matens (Grand Prairie, Alta.) can clearly see evidence of this in Chang. Shannon and Martens both practice and run with Chang on a regular basis and spend a lot of their time together. Shannon can clearly see that running helps Chang escape if there is something going on.
“I think running has been a big help for her,” Shannon says. “She uses it as an escape from her thoughts.”
Martens goes on to echo that when she is stressed, she sees Chang “pour into the things she is good at and really knows how to do – like school and running.”
Chang has captured the way that the stress from running can actually help her, and she now knows how to use that stress to her advantage.
“I’ve learned how to deal with stress from running and that helps me cope with other stresses,” Chang says.
For Chang if there is a big test or a busy section of school, running is her escape. Some people procrastinate, while others cram more work in. For Jouen, she runs.
“When you are in the zone you literally cannot think about other stuff. When you are racing you forget about school.”
She found that the key to get the stress of running to help with other stresses, is to keep the running enjoyable. If she does maintain the enjoyment, then she capitalizes on using one stress to eliminate another one.
“I try to keep it enjoyable, if I’m not enjoying myself while running then there is no point in doing it. But part of the stress that comes from it also helps me deal with school stress.”
Chang gives a lot of the credit to the emotional energy you get from racing. There is a certain freeness and adrenaline she gets during and after races that helps push her to become a better runner and to maintain the enjoyment of the sport. Chang goes as far to say that the feeling that you get during and after a race – “the post-race high” – can change your life.
“It makes you have a more positive outlook on everything. It almost changes your outlook on life.”
At the age of seven, Chang’s father passed away from cancer. Shortly after, she fell into a state of grief and depression. Chang tried multiple times to talk to people, like counselors, but that wasn’t helping her.
Eventually, years later, what did help her deal with the loss of her father was running.
“Running helps with emotional stress too,” she says. “I found running helped me think things through and deal with grief and loss.”
Chang admits to bottling up the feelings, not because she wasn’t comfortable talking about it, but rather, she found that talking about it with others would not help her as much as other methods.
“I went to therapy for it, but I could never talk in it, but running is just my type of therapy.”
She didn’t find this out until in high school, when she discovered that running was a passion of hers. Her past had been bottled up. Knowing that talking things through was not for her, she found out what was best for her.
“I felt like I couldn’t get it out until I started running,” she says. “I found that that was a way of talking about it and getting it out of my system.”
Chang had dealt with self-confidence issues growing up, always looking for the one thing where she can find success. Then, she discovered running.
“I found something I was good at – running – and that gave me more confidence. I also found that running is a way to release my emotions.”
In running, Chang found something that both helps her and that she loves. Her talent is something that is highly praised on the Spartans track and field and cross country teams, as Shannon and Martens both speak highly of her talent. Both of them credit her hard work and humble mindset as something that helped her get to where she is now.
“She is on the rise,” Shannon says. “Most people don’t come 11th and ninth at high school provincials and run at a high level afterwards.”
Martens is in the same boat – impressed that Chang has progressed this quick.
“Being in her second year and being on of our top runners is pretty incredible.”
Shannon and Martens also agree on what has gotten her to this point in her career. It’s Chang’s hard work and humble attitude.
“She is the most hard-working person I know,” Martens says. “She is super diligent with running and taking care of her body.”
When asking Shannon about where Chang will be in the future Shannon, was unsure. There was one thing she knew for sure,
“No matter what she does, it will be something that pushes her and makes her work hard.”
With Chang having such a steep progression – one that already includes winning the Junior Girls title at the BC Cross Country Championships this fall, finishing 31st overall at the most recent U SPORTS Cross Country Championships and now preparing to compete in the Canadian Cross Country Championships (Nov. 24) in Kingston, Ont. – lots of people wonder where the ceiling is for her and how far she can go. Her teammates both had the same answer, with Shannon suggesting, “If she continues to work hard, she could hit the Olympics.”
The hard work and diligence that Jouen has for running, combined with her natural talent, puts her on a plan that could get her to the Olympics.
But beyond that and perhaps even more importantly, running has given her a therapeutic process.
Running has given her freedom and happiness.