• Purpose

Working up to an Olympic-sized goal

2 August 2021
JUMO alumni, Clarissa Johnston, an Olympic swimmer in the water

Before officially becoming an Olympic athlete, Clarissa Johnston worked as JUMO’s Strategic Partnerships Lead of Capital & Banking for Pakistan. She balanced a challenging job with a demanding training schedule. It was a juggling act, much like her sport of choice. Artistic swimming calls for a masterful combination of performing acrobatics, graceful swimming, musical timing and immense physical strength. Clarissa reflects on the practical support and mental fortitude that helped get her to Tokyo.

“For me, artistic swimming started off as an alternative to gymnastics at the age of 10. I went on to make the KwaZulu-Natal team when I was 11, the South African U16 team at 15 years old, and the 2008 Olympic Qualifier when I was 17. Now I am at the Olympics in Tokyo. Training for these games has not been easy, but the flexibility provided by JUMO when I was working there full time allowed me to work from home and train at a high level.”

After the Olympics, my long-term goal is to help businesses and systems drive impact, which is why I completed my master’s in development finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business last year. Being a JUMOnaut enabled me to study part time while working full time. JUMO’s remote working practices allow for high productivity, collaboration, and quality of life. Having re-entered the world of competitive sport for the Tokyo Olympics, I feel compelled to contribute to women in sport in some way and I have a few ideas percolating on what this may look like in the future.

In the medium-term, my goal is to work with and for companies that facilitate economic development technology, particularly in emerging markets, so that I know my work has left a positive, lasting impact on society.

My two biggest challenges have been time management and focus shifting. The first is straight-forward to solve; planning, being smart with time and being adaptable to changeable schedules are key. The latter is more complex and requires good concentration. I can’t perform my best in training if I’m worried about an email I received on my way there. I also can’t work properly if I’m distracted by how a training session went the day before or feeling exhausted from being in the pool. Work and training both require proper focus and shifting gears between the two every day was a challenge that required mental clarity and resetting.

Even before the COVID pandemic and lockdowns, JUMO offered partial remote working for flexibility and a trusting management style. That is why when Laura, my swimming partner, asked me to join her in February 2020, I knew I could say yes. By the end of 2020, JUMO shifted permanently to remote-first working, which meant that I saved time in my day and could work effectively while also training full time. This type of working practice is beneficial for many people; parents with young children, people who are studying part-time, athletes who need to train 15–20 hours a week or individuals that may have hobbies that require travel. Many JUMOnauts continue to benefit from these practices.

Our weekly Monday Country Manager meeting started right as our practice would end. I would dial in and put my phone on a diving block while drying off and packing up my stuff and would then stay dialed into the call on the drive home. Because we swam throughout the entire afternoon in the sun, we would cake on water-proof blue zinc to protect our faces from getting sunburnt and our hair would be a mess from being in a swimming cap for four hours. Let’s just say I was very careful to make sure my camera was always off on those calls!

I will take a few weeks off after the Olympics to rest and connect with friends that I have not seen in Cape Town since April. I recently relocated to Johannesburg and will be in a bubble (seeing no friends or family until I return from the Olympics). Later in the year, I hope to do a roadshow around South Africa with various artistic swimming clubs in major cities to share my Olympic experience and teach the younger swimmers’ parts of our routine.

Overall, I am very grateful that I could rely on my colleagues on days when I was training and offline for a few hours. I was fortunate to travel to many countries over my four years at JUMO and made great memories with colleagues from around the world. In fact, I belonged to a small gym, The Den, that was started by and for JUMOnauts where I trained for a few years before and during my Olympic journey. The Den is a special place for me because it helped me get fit for the Olympics years before I even knew I would re-enter elite sport, and it has been a very close-knit training group.“

Connect with Clarissa

Instagram: @artswimduet_rsa