Males tend to stand out not only in the crowd, but even more so on the field. Gillian Johnston, the patron of the Coca-Cola polo team, is no exception, leading her team to numerous victories during the prestigious high-goal games that highlight the winter polo season.
Whether in the saddle or out, Johnston dedicates her time to raising awareness for Horses Healing Hearts, a nonprofit that helps at-risk children of addicts and alcoholics overcome life challenges and break the cycle of addiction.
Johnston realizes the importance of giving back, a spirit of philanthropic giving that makes her the ideal ambassador for HHH. Since her induction in September, Johnston has brainstormed with fellow ambassadors to find new ways to involve and reach the children of HHH. In January 2018, they invited the children to visit the International Polo Club Palm Beach for the opening match of the year. She also attended and helped raise funds for the annual White, White West Gala.
“I am honored to join the other HHH polo ambassadors Jeff Blake, Sugar Erskine and Matthew Coppola, and we were happy to have HHH see polo up close by attending our opening match this year. I am excited to share polo with these young athletes who are tenacious in their own right,” Johnston said.
Tenacity does not come in short supply for Johnston. In 2002, Johnston and her Coca-Cola team won the 26-goal U.S. Open Polo Championship, making her only the second woman to win this respected title. Her team also won the 20-goal Ylvisaker Cup three times, in 2013, 2015 and 2017, and she played in the U.S. Open semifinals in 2013 and 2015, as well as the 26-goal USPA Gold Cup final in 2016.
HHH is the only nonprofit in the United States using equine-assisted learning to help children whose parents are suffering from substance use disorder. In addition to learning responsibility through caring for horses, HHH participants also develop life skills to help break the generational cycle of addiction. Liz Olszewski founded HHH in 2009 and serves as the organization’s executive director. She is an expert in the field of equine therapy for children of alcoholics and those who have grown up in an environment of addiction. Through the horses and staff, HHH significantly improves the lives of these children, giving them new hope for the future.
“We are truly blessed to have not only these caliber of athletes like Gillian and the others, but to have the quality of people (ambassadors) who are so authentic and generous,” Olszewski said. “All of our ambassadors eagerly kneel down to get on eye level with the HHH kids when they meet them. That action, in and of itself, is really telling. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to on-lookers, but I’m often shocked to hear details from the kids of their conversations with an ambassador years later.”