100 in 100: Pitt County’s Kristi Overton Johnson, world-class water-skier

The Greenville native was a top-ranked water-skier for more than a decade

Greenville's Kristi Overton Johnson was a top-ranked water-skier for more than a decade.

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Pitt County

Kristi Overton Johnson

Kristi Overton Johnson began water skiing at the age of 5 and took to the sport immediately. It wasn’t long before she’d outgrown her family outings on the Pamlico River near Bath and began skiing competitively.

She won age-group state, regional and national championships in slalom, trick and jump events and became so good that she turned professional by the time she was 13. At the age of 18, in 1988, she was already a Masters champion and the No. 1-ranked skier in the world in the trick event. But because of a hip deformity, she began concentrating on slalom.


Over the next 15 years, she won 80 professional titles and earned more No. 1 world rankings than any other female skier in history. She won eight U.S. Masters championships, four U.S. Opens and held both the U.S. and world records in the women’s slalom from 1992-2010.

In addition to her successes in U.S. waters, the Greenville native also brought home records and gold medals from the Pan American Games, along with titles from the British, French, Italian, Australian and Austrian Masters. For her career, she set five world records and 19 national records.

Injuries, however, shortened her career. After undergoing 10 major surgeries, including a complete reconstruction of her pelvis, she retired from competitive skiing in 2004. Not long after that, the honors began rolling in. Among them were induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, along with the USA Water Ski and International Water Ski & Wakeboard Federation halls of fame.

Overton Johnson has since become an author and motivational speaker who also founded a water sports ministry called Champions Heart. A human-made lake located near the Pitt County community of Grimesland is named in her honor. The privately owned Lake Kristi was designed for water skiing, and the area around it is the home course for the East Carolina men’s and women’s cross country teams.