Katie Johanni was a competitive goalie, a great teammate, and an outstanding friend to the Ohio State Water Polo Team. Her lifelong struggle with epilepsy put some obstacles in Katie’s way but she continued her participation in the competitive and high-energy sport of water polo and swimming throughout high school and college, bringing joy and positivity to every life she entered.
Katie was diagnosed with cancer when she was 2. After undergoing a risky surgery, she beat the incredible odds against her and survived to live a happy and healthy childhood. Her tumor was mostly removed and the cancer that remained was benign. Her seizures began in fifth grade. Noting that they typically occurred around sleeping and waking, her doctors gave her the okay to continue the sport she loved: swimming. She began swimming competitively in middle school and started water polo in high school at Upper Arlington High School (Ohio). In high school, Katie edited the yearbook and played goalie for the state champion water polo team Her teammates recognized her ability to inspire individuals, and they elected her captain.
Katie joined the OSU water polo club as a freshman in 2012. As a senior, she was elected onto the executive board as Tournament Director. Her primary job was scheduling and putting together all of our tournaments, in which she excelled due to her incredible organizational skills, hard work and motivation. As our goalie, she played a pivotal role on the team as a leader, mentor and player.
Katie did more than just her duties, she strived to make everyone have the best experience every day. She was known to uplift people having a bad day and she was eager to lend support and friendly advice. A true leader in the pool, she consistently led drills. Katie was passionate about many things, including fashion magazines and reality TV. She was incredibly generous, cooking dinner and baking for everyone expecting nothing in return. She was a regular at practice and always made new girls feel welcomed and included. She brought this spirit to the team while pursuing a full schedule in marketing at the Fisher School of Business at Ohio State University. Due to her epilepsy she was forced to miss some practices and games over her water polo career, but Katie would always come to cheer on the team anyway.
Katie had her career sights set on working at an advertising firm in a major city. Her dream came true in the form of a summer job offering at the top advertising firm in the country, Leo Burnett, based in Chicago. She excelled at her 10 week internship and loved being there. Her friends and family continue to recognize her work in commercials currently airing. This was a time of high reward for her, but also high stress as the frequency of her seizures increased to once a week. Once the summer was over, she looked forward to her senior year at college as a major leader on our team. However, as her seizures maintained a higher than normal frequency, she found many barriers to her school and social life. Frequent headaches, difficult side effects from her anti-epilepsy medications, and chronic tiredness plagued her. Katie always kept her spirits high, though. She recognized her good fortune thus far and all the good things she was still able to experience as a person with her disease. She was determined to live a life of purpose and kindness, with vibrancy and joy. When she had a seizure, she would say simply, "I am sad." And then she would go on.
Katie had a seizure and died in her sleep on November 24, 2015. SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy) had taken this bright light away from the world. The news shocked everyone. Her friends and family are comforted to know that she lived her life the best way she possibly could have and that she’s now in a better place.
The OSU Women’s Water Polo team has suffered a great loss. However, we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have known her. Katie touched so many people, shown through the attendance at her visitation and funeral! Many of the slides shown at her visitation featured our team, and the priest spoke of Katie’s involvement in the team at the funeral. We are so happy that Katie felt about us the same way we felt about her. Her memory and her spirit lives on whenever we get together.
The Men’s and Women’s Ohio State Water Polo Teams will be hosting an invitational in honor of Katie Johanni. All proceeds will go to the Epilepsy Foundation, SUDEP Institute so that we can continue Katie’s impact on the world. The First Annual Katie Johanni Memorial Tournament will be held at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion at the Ohio State University, from April 9-10th, 2016. We will be inviting16 teams to compete and celebrate Katie’s passions, water polo and friends. We’re hoping to create a legacy of Katie Johanni on our team, impact the complicated and growing field of epilepsy research and awareness, and show the future water polo players at Ohio State that the bond between teammates lasts forever. Go Bucks! Go Katie!
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