Making a Difference, One Triathlon at a Time

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Elizabeth Johnson poses with Team 360. Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth Johnson

By Jennifer Yoo, Swimming World College Intern.

Not all heroes wear capes: they can come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need an abundance of materialistic resources at your disposal to make a difference. Everyone has the potential to inspire someone else when they own the reality that they have more to offer the world than they might have thought. All it takes is compassion and determination.

Elizabeth Johnson, current distance swimmer at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, has used her love for fitness to inspire others to chase after their goals and give back to the athletic community. While other teenagers tend to focus on themselves – gossiping and worrying about test scores – Johnson decided to take a different path. And it made all the difference. Swimming World caught up with Johnson to understand the makings of a servant-hearted swimmer, triathlete and person.

A Twist of Fate

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Johnson starting her swimming career. Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth Johnson

To understand the development of this hero, we must start at the very beginning. Johnson has always been on the go. She began her athletic career as a soccer player, enjoying the adrenaline that coursed through her while charging the field. However, one fateful day took her favorite sport away for good. At 10 years old, she fell off a neighbor’s trampoline and shattered her foot. Consequently, her world was shattered. Although she attempted to play soccer again, the impact was too great on her foot, forcing her to stop altogether in order to make a full recovery.

After her foot had healed, Johnson’s determination to stay active led her to try out a different sport that wouldn’t be as intense on her foot: swimming. This wasn’t such a long stretch, as Johnson already had an interest in swimming. Her broken foot gave her the timely opportunity to go for it, and swimming was the perfect fit. Automatically falling in love with the sport, Johnson continued swimming throughout middle school, high school and eventually, college.

Transition to Triathlons

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Johnson smiling brightly for her new passion. Photo Courtesy: Jill Fears

Growing up with a father who trained for and participated in numerous triathlons, Johnson had great footsteps to follow. Setting high goals, they planned to compete alongside each other. However, due to Johnson’s wrist injury and then her father’s back injury, they had to back out of the race. But this did not deter Johnson. Instead, she continued to train after her wrist healed and refocused her athletic goals – this time on a higher cause.

During her junior year of high school, Johnson’s mother connected her with an organization that helps individuals with different abilities – including spina bifida, autism and cerebral palsy – to train for and participate in athletic events such as 5Ks, marathons and triathlons. It was here that Johnson immediately found her new passion. Her love for competing and achieving physical goals bled into her interest in helping others.

Team 360

Over the years, Johnson has worked closely with a variety of individuals to help them achieve their goals. All of the athletes train together as one big group, while differently abled athletes can use modified methods to swim, bike and run. If athletes need assistance, other able-bodied athletes can push them in a mobile chair called a jogger and/or tow them as they swim or bike. Other athletes are able to propel themselves via wheelchairs or a 3-wheeled equipment called a racerunner that provides support as they run. It all depends on where the athlete already is and which method works the best for them.

Sometimes, differently abled athletes gain enough physical strength to compete more independently in races by actively participating in training sessions. Johnson has witnessed many individuals successfully work their way to complete races more independently.

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Andrew, who has cerebral palsy, at the Freedom 5k finish. Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth Johnson

Andrew, the athlete featured above, is one such athlete who worked his way from being pushed in a jogger to using a racerunner. During training sessions, he would force himself to walk and grew stronger each day. Over time, he was able to complete two half Ironmans with the assistive device and some additional support from others!

“Through racing, our athletes get much stronger and grow both mentally and physically. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of!” Johnson states.

A Lasting Impact

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Johnson posing with Team George. Photo Courtesy: Elizabeth Johnson

Finding a rich spirit within this community, Johnson went on to compete in a number of triathlons and 5Ks on her own. “It was the strength, kindness and spirit of all the athletes and those who help them in the organization that inspired me to do a whole triathlon myself!” she claims.

Johnson’s motivation and positive attitude have radiated far and wide. Not only has she inspired those in the Team 360 organization, but she has also pushed her fellow teammates at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Many have taken note of her dedication and drive as she balances a collegiate level sport with academic rigors.

Ryan Akhavan, a butterflier for St. Mary’s College, describes Johnson as “always ready for a challenge in the pool and in the classroom.” Fellow distance swimmer Anna LaPoint adds, “She always puts 110 percent into everything she does and is able to push others around her with her optimism and passion.”

This passion continues to burn brightly, as Johnson continues to participate in 5Ks and triathlons individually as well as with Team 360. Her goal-setting vision is focused on first completing a half Ironman and then a whole one. In addition, this August, she will be participating in another 5K with Team 360.

As demonstrated by Johnson, you do not need to move mountains or have a ton of resources to make a difference in your community. All it takes is a humble heart, a goal-oriented mindset, and a willingness to give yourself.

How can you make a difference in your community?

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THE TEAM 360 ORGANIZATION.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Linda Johnson

    So very proud to call Elizabeth Johnson our granddaughter!! Couldn’t be prouder!!