On the volleyball court, Josey Walton ’22 isn’t known only for her stats — 91 kills, 31 digs, and 16 blocks in the 2021 season. She’s also known for her dancing.
“They made a comment in practice that they’re going to miss my dancing and happiness,” Walton, a criminology major from Pamplin, Virginia, said. “I’ve always been described as an outgoing person. We play music during practice, so I just … you know.”
Walton’s teammate Abbi Leeper ’23 has been right there, dancing alongside her bestie for the past three years.
“We’ve been best friends since freshman year,” Leeper, a statistics and data science major from Midlothian, Virginia, said. “We immediately hit it off and became attached at the hip. We were always the ‘hype men’ in the locker room and dancing, getting ready for games.
“What I love most about Josey is her love for the people close to her. I know I could go to her about anything and she would be there for me, no matter the situation. Josey is my twin flame and I swear we are the same person.
“I’m so lucky to know her. I’m sad, but also so immensely proud to see her graduate from the University of Lynchburg.”
Walton originally majored in exercise physiology, but said she eventually “realized this wasn’t really for me.” After her roommate suggested she look at criminology, she talked with Dr. Daniel Murphy, an assistant professor in the program. He encouraged her to take a criminology class — Child Abuse and Exploitation — her sophomore year.
“[The class] struck something in me and I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said. “I got interested in child protective services and child abuse investigations, and thought social work would be the best option for me.”
She also talked with Dr. Sharon Foreman, associate professor of sociology and chair of the sociology and human services department. “[She] is the human services guru,” Walton said. “I got into a lot of her classes. I enjoyed all her classes and it struck my passion for social work. I’ve been on that path ever since.”
Hannah Givens, Lynchburg’s head volleyball coach, describes Walton — a 5-foot-9-inch outside hitter — as an “incredible” person abounding with “strength and grace.”
She added, “The thing that makes Josey so amazing is that every single time she walks into a room, she is smiling and happy to be there, no matter what is going on behind the scenes with her and her family.”
Walton, the only daughter in a tight-knit family of four, has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that mostly affects the lungs, but also can also affect the digestive system and other organs. Her younger brother, Ethan, has CF, too. In addition, her father has Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.
Walton described her family as “very close.” She and her dad share an affinity for scary movies, and last summer the family road tripped through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.
“We do a lot of stuff in my family,” she said. “I’d say my family are some of my best friends. I have a pretty big extended family. We all live in the same neighborhood. We can take four-wheelers to see each other, and we do. We hang out with each other a lot.”
Walton’s dad was diagnosed with ALS when she was a senior in high school. It’s been an adjustment for everyone. “We’ve had to adapt a lot to my dad’s ALS,” she said. “He’s always been a very active person, very athletic, and does everything with us. He just goes and goes and goes.
“With ALS, it’s deteriorating his muscles, affecting his breathing, he gets tired easily. He can’t do things that he used to do on his own. As much as it’s been us having to adapt, he’s had to adapt, letting us help him with things that he wants to do on his own.”
Having CF, Walton said she and her brother can relate to a lot of what he’s going through and help out. “Mom has handled it really well, but it’s been good that she’s had us to help,” Walton said. “We do a lot to help.
“Mostly, I would say me and my brother being there for her has been one of the biggest helps, and being there for my dad. … Because [we] have felt some of the same things: We feel like outcasts, we take pills, we take treatments and medicines with us when we travel.
“There’s been a lot of ‘extra’ throughout our lives. Kind of helping Dad deal with that, too, has helped.”
Despite all of the challenges, Walton has persevered and thrived. She will graduate in May, a year earlier than anticipated. Her future plans include a summer internship with Buckingham County Social Services and a master’s degree in social work.
“Her family has really been through the ringer in the past few years,” Givens said. “When I first met Josey, I was amazed to hear that she has CF and the daily things she has to be aware of. … Through this disease, she has still been able to train as an NCAA athlete, weightlifting and practicing every day.
“She was really able to step into her ability on the court this past fall season, where she was regularly playing and being a spark plug for her team. Her play really stepped up for her last year.”