Jolee Paden went from being a Division III runner at Eastern Mennonite University to working with Division I athletes in the nation’s capital.
But the native of Illinois is not a coach or athletic trainer – for the past few years she has been on staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Washington, D.C. The former college distance runner is also a published author.
She began as the campus representative for George Washington University in 2017. Then this past August she became the college director for FCA in D.C., working with students and coaches at George Washington, American, Georgetown, Howard, Gallaudet, Catholic, Trinity, and the University of the District of Columbia.
An all-Old Dominion Athletic Conference standout at EMU in cross country and track, Paden spent a lot of time this spring with the softball team at Howard University before the season was cut short to COVID-19 concerns.
“She made an impact on that campus with the softball team right away,” said Roswell Smith, a former football player at Texas Tech and the FCA Director in D.C.
Paden’s involvement with FCA goes back nearly a decade.
“My sophomore year of high school, that was the first summer I started with FCA when I began working as a camp counselor,” Paden, 26, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I got to see the merger of sports and faith. I started going to a running camp at Montreat.”
It was there that she met Jason Lewkowicz, who became her coach at EMU. He is now the director of cross country and track and field at Montreat, a Christian college in North Carolina.
Paden was a distance runner at EMU and set personal bests of 2:29.89 in the 800-meters, 5:24.93 in the mile, and 39:50.85 in the 10,000-meters. In addition, she was a four-time ODAC All-Academic Team member and was named to the Virginia Sports Information Directors All-State team in 2015-16.
She was All-ODAC first or second team in the indoor distance medley relay; the outdoor 5000-meters; the indoor distance medley relay team; and the team indoor 3,000 meters. In cross country, she was all-ODAC second-team in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
While on a cross-cultural semester in the Middle East with EMU, Paden did not run for four months.
“It was the first time I had taken off more than two weeks of running for six years,” she said.
During that time she started planning for a book, which was published later that year in July 2014 called “Spiritual Runner.”
She said being a published author gives her some cache when she speaks to students and others.
Paden graduated from EMU with a degree in rec and sports leadership, business administration, and moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2016 and worked with Back on My Feet, an organization that uses running to fight homelessness. She helped coach a high school cross country team at Eleanor Roosevelt in Maryland and she joined FCA D.C. as a campus rep in 2017.
“At that point, I needed a transition,” she said of joining FCA.
At first, she began working with coaches and student-athletes at George Washington, a Division I member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. She had no previous connections to GW athletics.
“I really started to invest in the softball team and two coaches,” Paden said of assistants Kiana Quolas and Laina Holmgren. “I would say they are two of my best friends. We meet every week for Bible study.”
“She has been a huge blessing in my life,” Quolas, a former George Mason assistant, said of Paden.
Now Paden is facing a new challenge.
She will begin work on June 1 as the Director of Operations for FCA in Southeast Asia, working with coaches in eight countries. She hopes to move to Malaysia by the end of the year.
“She has the ability to lead and manage,” Smith said. “She has a strong ability to engage and put her finger on the pulse of where something is going. She is a visionary and a high-level visionary.”