HARDIN - Sometimes it's tough to tell where Journey Erickson excels most: school, career, or athletics.
"I think they all balance each other out," Erickson told MTN Sports on a recent afternoon on her old high school grounds. "I don't think I'd be as good as I am in running if I wasn't doing academics. It just kind of gives you a break from all of them."
Growing up in Hardin, Erickson followed the footsteps of her mom as a runner. Turned out, Journey was a member of Hardin's most dominant cross country years; part of four straight Class A girls team titles.
"That was the best part of my high school years," she said.
But she never thought she'd be cut out for triathlon.
"I was like, no way. I will not do it," Erickson said with a smile.
That was her mindset when MSU-Billings reached out a little over a year ago inviting her to join the upstart Yellowjackets women's program. For those not familiar, triathlon is the combination of running, biking and swimming.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Erickson reconsidered the offer and tip-toed in with the support of Yellowjacket triathlon coach Kevin Bjerke.
"(He) was super understanding that I'd never done triathlon before, so he worked with me quite a bit," she said. "I wasn't experienced in biking or swimming, so we had to start from ground zero."
She used to swim for fun and remembers first learning to ride a bike with her dad at a Hardin park not far from the high school.
"I made it around this tree and fell and remember thinking, no, I'm never getting on a bike again," Erickson recalled with a laugh.
Not only did she get back on, she exceeded her own triathlon expectations last season as a college freshman. And she competed for MSUB's track and field team. And she carried a 4.0 GPA both semesters of her pre-nursing nursing major. That earned her Scholar all-American honors from USA Triathlon and the Collegiate Triathlon Coaches Association.
The accolades and effort aren't shocking to Hardin's Hall of Fame coach Cindy Farmer, who watched Erickson dabble in basketball and develop into a cross country team captain.
"Oh man, her stepping in as a leader as a freshman then carrying that on as a sophomore, junior and senior year," Farmer recalled. "And you know how it is being a captain and a leader. You have to have a strong mental toughness and she did."
Erickson still does. Rather than take this summer off, she's donning scrubs for a part-time CNA job at Hardin's Big Horn County Memorial Hospital, helping patients with their daily activities.
"Get their meals ready for them and help them get showered and dressed. Just kind of help with the everyday sort of thing," Erickson explained outside a hospital entrance.
She says she's been dialed in to this career path since high school, where, by the way, she was one of five valedictorians -- all girls, with several on that dominant cross country team.
Now, once again, she's following mom's course.
"She's a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I look up to her," Journey said. "I see that she helps a lot of people and I like to help people."
Erickson says, like her mom, she's interested in mental health but also eager to learn the spectrum of nursing choices. And she already has designs on where she'd like to practice.
"I really want to work on reservations or in low-income communities. Anywhere that they really need help like that."
Not surprisingly, Erickson's versatility is turning into sharper focus. She has decided to give up college athletics at MSUB and transfer to Montana State entering her sophomore year.
"I really enjoyed it (NCAA athletics), but I really want to focus on my academics and becoming the best nurse I can be."