Ohio State sprinter Jonathan Francois learns to master the many roles of a student-athlete

by Ryan Zimmerman,

As he clears hurdle after hurdle on the track at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, it is obvious that Jonathan Francois has physical abilities many could only dream of. As he crosses the finish line, Francois epitomizes the very definition of “athlete.”

But to simply call him an athlete would be a mistake; in his three years at Ohio State, Francois has become a master at juggling his many roles: athlete, student, citizen and mentor.

“I’ve been blessed to be able to do so many things as a student-athlete,” Francois acknowledges. “As much as I enjoy being an athlete, being a student and lending a hand to members of my community is much more rewarding.”

A junior from Piscataway, N.J., Francois has taken his role of productive citizen to heart. For the past five years, Francois has spent his summers as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown, protecting friends, neighbors and strangers from harm.

Francois was introduced to the volunteer program while in high school, hoping to use the experience as a cornerstone for his college applications. Five years later, he has found something away from the track that he loves doing.

“It really is an adrenaline rush, much like competing on the track,” he said. “It is great to be able to do something that you enjoy while also helping others in the process.”

Learning the ins and outs of fighting fires was challenging but rewarding. Being able to properly use equipment, knowing how to operate different engines and understanding how to react in pressure situations gave Francois an appreciation for what commitment really is — lessons he has been able to translate into other aspects of his life.

“The biggest thing volunteering with the fire department has taught me is discipline,” Francois said. “You have to know how to handle tense situations because people are relying on you. It’s the same on the track. You have to be able to manage your time, get to practice on time, workout on your own and care for your body because your team is counting on you.”

Helping teammates and fellow firefighters is gratifying, but perhaps the greatest reward for Francois has been the opportunity he was given to be a mentor for fellow students as a Residential Advisor at Blackburn House, a campus residence hall.

“I love being an RA because it gives you a chance to meet so many different people,” he said, “Even with the time commitment that school and track takes up, I manage to find a way to give as much to my floor as I can.

“There is a requirement that an RA only have 10 hours of extracurricular activities a week. Obviously with track I exceed that limit, yet I was still given the opportunity be a floor leader. I feel that is a sign that being an RA is something I was meant to do.”

Meeting people from so many different backgrounds through athletics, school and volunteering has made Francois a master of communication, an ability that the junior doesn’t take for granted.

“When I was younger I went on a school trip where I didn’t know anybody and I absolutely hated it,” Francois admitted. “From that time on I made a commitment to be able to talk to all groups of people. I value communication a lot because it is a way for you to express yourself while also learning about other people.

“I use that skill every day, whether on the track with coaches and teammates or when I’m trying to help one of my residents. If you take the time to genuinely get to know someone and listen to what they have to say, you’ll be able to build stronger relationships.”

Between class, track, advising and volunteering in the summer, Francois has very little time for himself. While most of us would resent this fact, he could not imagine living any other way.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunities I’ve already been given. Being a student-athlete, especially at place like Ohio State is a privilege, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted – the moment you do it’s gone.

“I just think that if you are presented with the opportunity to help others, why not do it? In the moment it might not be exactly what you want to do, but eventually you’ll look back and be happy that you did.”