Jacksonville Sports Day

JU’s Klein Returns as Newest Member of Hall of Fame

“Leave it better than you found it.”

It’s a simple philosophy, but something Joane Klein, nee Pierre, takes to heart.

From arriving on campus in 2009 to her graduation in 2013, the Port-au-Prince, Haiti native had a decorated athletic career for the Jacksonville University women’s cross country and track and field teams.

On Saturday evening, Klein will be inducted as a member of the 2019 Jacksonville University Athletics Hall of Fame.

“When I first heard about it, I was really shocked. Not because I didn’t think I worked hard for it, just because it’s still so surreal, it’s not something that I ever even considered for myself,” explained Klein. “It’s just been such an amazing journey and I’ve just been blessed. Running has done so much for me and to have that title and honor is just incredible. It shows you how God works and how when you work hard, you do get rewarded for stuff like that. It’s amazing.”

A quick check of the Dolphins’ record books and you’ll find evidence of an impressive athletic resume: a 2013 USTFCCCA All-American; five school records between cross country and track and field; and 14 individual ASUN Conference titles.

The distance runner was also a member of nine ASUN Championship teams during Jacksonville’s unprecedented 22-straight conference indoor and outdoor track championships from 2006 to 2016.

As a freshman during the 2009-10 season, Joane helped the Dolphins to an incredible feat – the Triple Crown – in which JU swept the women’s cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and Field league titles.

“It was exciting and I was part of this big thing that had never happened before at JU,” Klein noted, “but I felt like I was new, like I was helping build the program. It was an amazing accomplishment, but I felt like I came into something great already. Even though I was part of that greatness, it was theirs [the girls who came before], and I helped build that.”

While the Triple Crown may have felt like greatness bestowed, by her senior year, Joane was writing her own legacy within the program. Perhaps most notably, as the Dolphins’ only runner in program history to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country National Championship race – a goal she accomplished her senior season in 2012.

“That was probably one of the most memorable for me. I always play it back in my head because that was the season that started it for me, because you have cross country and then indoor and outdoor track,” reminisced Klein on her final campaign as a Dolphin in 2012-13.

The year was a whirlwind of achievements: Klein competed at the national championships for cross country and outdoor track and field (800m run); set program records in the mile (indoor), 1,500-meter (outdoor), and 5,000-meter (outdoor) runs; helped the Dolphins set the ASUN Indoor Championship record in the distance-medley relay (indoor); and finished her collegiate career as a 14-time ASUN Individual Champion and nine-time ASUN Team Champion.

What, exactly, sparked Klein’s meteoric rise and continued confidence and success that year? According to Klein herself, a few encouraging words from head coach Ron Grigg in the middle of the regional cross country race would ultimately contribute to her national championship berth.

“I remember Coach Grigg just being so at peace with it, he told me ‘Just go out there and have fun. Enjoy your time and just have fun.’ Even racing, I felt nervous, but I had somewhat of a peace in it knowing that he felt that confident in me. I will never forget during the race, Coach Grigg popped up out along the trail and he was like, ‘You look comfortable, you look like you’re racing your race. Now go out there and catch some people.’ As soon as he said that, and I don’t know what clicked, but I got an extra gear and I just went out there. I remember saying ‘This is it, this is my race, I need to go, I need to go out there and catch people.’ It started to be a little mind game for me and I started catching more people and more people.”

Averaging 5:25.7 minutes per mile of the 6,000-meter race, Joane crossed the line seventh overall – right where she needed to be to qualify for the national championship.

After learning from Grigg that she had made the cut, Joane was overcome with emotion. “I bawled. I told him, ‘Coach, this is for you.’ I will never forget that – to have him believe in me like that in my last race. I felt like he poured so much into me and into the program and that was my thank you to him.”

Though it was a goal from the beginning of the season, she still had doubts about being able to qualify for nationals. After she qualified, however, Klein’s mindset shifted.

“That mindset, ‘I’m going to make it to nationals, I can do this. How amazing would it be if I made it to nationals in cross country and then track? I can do this.’ I think that memory and that season started prepping my mind for the track and field season that I had. It is just an amazing memory and my way of helping with the program. What the girls had started, what they had built, and then what I accomplished was my piece of it.”

Not only was JU a place for Joane to leave her legacy, it was also a place she found love with JU football alum and husband, Mike Klein.

After sharing classes and friendly encounters in passing or at study groups, Joane ended up in a French 101 class with Mike. There was one problem however: as a Haitian, Joane grew up speaking, reading, and writing French and was quite fluent in the language already. At the suggestion of her professor, Joane dropped the class and opted for the more advanced French Film class.

The next part of the story differs depending on who you ask.

Catching up one day after she had switched classes, Mike asked Joane why she hadn’t been in French class. After explaining she had a more advanced understanding of the language, Mike adds, she offered to tutor him.

According to her, however, Mike asked Joane to tutor him and – after suggesting he ask her teammate, roommate, and native Frenchwoman Charlene Charles – he balked. “He said ‘no, it’d be best if you tutor me instead.’”

Reflecting on their first tutoring session, Klein gushed, “The first time I went to tutor him, he asked what my favorite food was, and all these questions. Later, he invites me over and he had my favorite meal cooked and had dinner by candlelight. We started hanging out ever since then and it’s been an amazing journey with him.”

The bonds made at Jacksonville University run deep and five years after their romance began, the Dolphin duo tied the knot with both track and football alumni in attendance and in the wedding party, including Joane’s former teammates, Bienna Freeman, Charlene Charles, and LaTonya Payne.

“Those three actually walked as part of the wedding party. We are constantly talking; we’re always on the phone and constantly try to be there for each other. Our senior year, we were roommates and we just stayed connected that way. It’s such a special bond to have these ladies. [Track and field] is something that we bonded over but we all had lives after. The fact that we can continue to bond and connect that way – they’re such incredible women and women that I look up to. Whatever’s going on, we can drop anything and talk to each other or visit each other. It’s definitely an amazing bond and friendship that we all have.”

As Klein is recognized this Homecoming Weekend, two things are certain. The first – her husband, teammates, coaches, friends, and family will be there to support her.

“Being back and seeing Coach Grigg and [former Assistant Coach Bambi Brundage]. I have a few friends who will be there as well, and Charlene will be flying in to come to the ceremony,” Klein added. “I’m just excited to be back on campus and bring back some memories. It’ll be an awesome experience being back on campus and feeling that atmosphere again. … Seeing new faces and the campus itself. There’s been so many new changes every time I come on campus, it’s awesome.”

The second thing for certain? When she returns to campus on Saturday, Joane Klein will find Jacksonville University better than she left it.

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