Long trip home doesn’t faze distance runner


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Only 7,937 miles.

That’s how far former Iowa track star Diane Nukuri Johnson will journey during her trip home to Burundi in East Africa. The trip involves approximately four days of traveling, and she hopes to spend about a month there before returning to Iowa City to continue working and running.

Nukuri Johnson hasn’t been to her native country in eight years. The long absence has given her mixed feelings about the homecoming.

“I’m really excited, but at the same time, I’m nervous because I haven’t been there for so long,” she said. “I’m sure everything changed there.”

She made it clear that Iowa City and Burundi are two very different worlds.

While the former is a busy college town, the latter was a place torn by war. Nukuri Johnson, like many residents of the country, are wary of going places alone.

When she runs in Burundi, she’ll take a partner along for safety.

But running isn’t the only thing she hopes to do while she’s home.

“I actually would like go to Lake Tanganyka, because it’s next to the capital city. I’ve never been there even though I’m from there,” she said. “I would like to go there, and hang out, and visit my friends.”

It’s not just the places that she misses, either, but the holidays as well.

“In Iowa City, New Year’s is about going to the bars and stuff,” she said. “Back home, it’s a lot more about just being with family.”

Her former coach at Iowa, Layne Anderson, is happy she’s getting the chance to see her family again.

“She deserves it,”he said. “She’s very outgoing, very personable. I think she’s inspired a lot of people, directly and indirectly.”

However, the looming trip hasn’t taken away from another major event Nukuri Johnson experienced in Iowa. Nukuri Johnson was married on July 25 in Cedar Rapids to former Daily Iowan sports staffer Alex Johnson.

Marriage hasn’t changed her much — in fact she said she doesn’t really feel any different. The best part about it, she said, is having a bigger family, one that has the opportunity to be around her more.

With the flurry of new and exciting events happening all at once, it has caused Nukuri Johnson to prioritize what she wants to do going forward. Her main goal is to pursue a professional running career.

She hopes to make enough money to run full-time, a lifelong dream of hers. A highlight for Nukuri Johnson is eventually running in the World Championships in March for Burundi.

Her chances of making Burundi’s national team seem high because of her outstanding athletic background as a Hawkeye, and there aren’t many people in Burundi who run competitively.

“If I don’t get injured or anything like that, I should be able to go,” she said. “I’m glad I got my degree because I really can’t count on just running. But for now I want to try to run for a couple years because that’s what I love to do.”

Nukuri Johnson, who has recently left for home, had a little trouble getting there. She called her coach when she got stranded in Germany.

“It’s a reflection of her life,” Anderson said. “I mean, how fitting. She’s had a lot of struggle in her life, and now she’s already facing adversity trying to get home.”

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