Steele Johnson Wins Fifth NCAA Diving Title — All With Broken Foot

Purdue's Steele Johnson. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Dan D’Addona.

While Caeleb Dressel is baffling the world with the way he dominates in the pool, there is another kind of long-term domination happening at the NCAA championships.

Purdue diver Steele Johnson has been one of the biggest names in diving for years and hasn’t lost a step — even with a broken foot.

Johnson won the NCAA title on the 3-meter board on Friday, repeating in the event and winning his fifth title overall.

“It is exciting to win. Coming into this meet, I had low expectations because I have only been training for eight weeks. The other guys have been training for months and months,” Johnson said. “I could have looked at it like I was behind. But I think I have to look at it as God preparing me. No one can dive with a broken foot on will alone and I fully believe there is some supernatural healing going on right there.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Johnson decided to change his final dive at the last second for a higher degree of difficulty.

“It was exciting to walk away with a win,” Johnson said. “I had to change my dive. Even if I had straight 10s on it, it wouldn’t have been enough to win, so I wanted to win and we did the dive that would help me get to that position.”

What is more remarkable than all the NCAA trophies is the fact that he has been dealing with a broken bone in his foot for three years — that means he has won all five NCAA titles and made the Olympic team while injured.

“We have known I have had a stress fracture in my navicular bone since February of 2015,” he said. “(Doctors) wanted to do surgery — they still want to do surgery. But with that recovery time of 6-8 months, I would have been out of the running for the Olympics.”

This year, Johnson and his coaches wanted to make sure it was actually healing, so he sat out much of the season.

“We took 12 weeks off and the bone is actually re-growing, it is pretty miraculous,” he said. “I think God has really putting his hand on that. I am still able to walk and still able to dive. I walk with a metal plate in my shoe and don’t have any pain, so I gotta keep going.”

It was a short time off, but seemed like a long road to recovery for Johnson.

“We took 12 weeks off where I wasn’t walking. I was on crutches or a scooter — no pressure on the foot,” he said. “Then I walked in a boot for a week, which was hard. Then the week after, I really couldn’t walk, either. It was a fast and painful process, but one I had to be patient through.”

He had some help along the way.

“Those first few weeks were especially hard because my leg was so week I just couldn’t walk,” he said. “The only reason I a was able to deal with it mentally was my wife. She has really been a fighter for me. We live on the third story of our apartment building, so she would actually help carry me up on her shoulder to the third floor — for 12 weeks. She has been a powerhouse for me, believing for healing, praying for healing. A lot of healing has come through. I wouldn’t even be able to be at this competition if it wasn’t for her.”

Johnson, a 2016 Olympian, has won NCAA titles in every discipline, earning two on 1-meter, two on 3-meter and one on platform.

On Friday, he won 3-meter with 499.15 points.

Five titles out of a possible nine in diving is astonishing — and he is just a junior so has one year remaining to add to that total.

“I have some inspiration. David Boudia won six NCAA titles. I am just going to be ready to come back next year and try to pass David’s record,” he said.

If Johnson is winning titles with a broken foot — what can’t he do?

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Author: Daniel D'Addona

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Dan D'Addona is the lead college swim writer for Swimming World. He has covered swimming at all levels since 2003, including the NCAA championships, USA nationals, Duel in the Pool and Olympic trials. He is a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a graduate of Central Michigan University. He currently lives in Holland, Michigan, where he also is the Sports Editor at The Holland Sentinel.

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