By Connie Lewis
What motivates Eric Johnson to continue competing into his fifties? “I am a single guy with lots of time on my hands” he jokes. But more seriously he says, “I like the competition and to see what I can get out of my body and mind on any given day. Most people never test themselves.”
At 51, Johnson competes in senior events at USA Track and Field sanctioned meets and National Senior Games meets all over the country and has done so since 2000. This year he’s competed in 13 meets and racked up 104 medals. He still has 3 races to go before the end of the 2012 season.
He ran his first race at 8 years old while attending Joaquin Elementary in Provo. The race was part of the end of the year field day and a chance for the kids to let out their energy. Though he had never raced before, he said of the event, “I beat everyone in the school but one sixth grader!” That race sparked the fire to create a lifelong passion for competing.
The following year his family moved to Ohio where 4th graders could be part of an official track and field team. He was the elementary state champion and represented his school in an all-state tournament, finishing 4th overall. Johnson improved there, and when his family returned to Utah he became a Junior Olympics State champion in 9th grade. He continued competing through high school where he set the state record in the 440-meter relay and ran on the state championship cross-country team.
When Sports Guide began publication 30 years ago, Johnson was running track for BYU. He raced for BYU beginning in 1979 in the 60-meter indoor event, 100- and 200-meter outdoor events, as well as relay. He placed 3rd in the Western Athletic Conference in sprints while racing for the university.
Johnson stopped competing for 17 years to concentrate on his two sons, but finally decided to race again in 2000. After training for a year, he felt ready and invited his family to watch the meet. In his first open division race he came in last. He was embarrassed, and said, “It made me mad.” After coming up with a new, intensive, daily training schedule he vowed to come back the next year a completely different runner.
Fourteen months later he broke the 50-meter world record for the 40–44 year old age group. That win gave him the motivation he needed to begin a rigorous competition schedule. He continues, to compete every year beginning at the end of January and continuing through October in races all over the country. He started amassing an impressive array of medals, earning over 500 medals in the past five years alone. His collection is so extensive he’s running out of room to display them.
Johnson has won the Utah Amateurs Male Athlete of the Year for 9 of the past 10 years. The year he lost it was to the University of Utah’s Alex Smith. In 2008, he won the Utah’s Sports Person Award out of all the Best of State categories. Johnson has no plans to slow down training or competing. Outside of racing, he stays busy as a part-time actor and a full-time recreational therapist for the Utah State Prison.
His events are race-walking, running, speed skating, swimming, long jump, high jump, triple jump, javelin, and hurdles. Johnson likes to challenge himself and adds something new every year. This year he took time off from hurdles to try snowshoe racing. He’s currently focusing on race-walking and hopes to compete in that event at the 2016 Olympics.
The key Johnson said, to staying in the game so long, “is to remain calm during competition based on confidence.” When you train as long and as hard as he does, you can’t help but be confident.
Connie Lewis attended BYU and the U of U and has written for the past 33 years. An avid skier and jeeper, she thinks Utah is the ideal recreational destination for any sports enthusiast.