Thursday, July 31, 2008
Making it onto an Olympic team is tough enough. Making it twice puts an athlete’s achievement in a whole different league. And that’s exactly what UC San Diego student Johnson, 24, has managed to do this year. Johnson will compete in the Olympics for the second time as a flat-water kayaker and she has done it all while on medication to battle Crohn's disease, an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. The condition kept her out of the water for a time, but she has learned to manage it.
"That was really hard, but being away from the sport showed me just how much I love it."
The native San Diegan also encountered other injuries en route to the Olympics. Johnson started out as a gymnast, but gave up after she broke her arm 11 years ago. However, she didn’t want to stop playing sports, so she entered San Diego’s Junior Lifeguard program where she discovered a passion for kayaking.
Johnson transitioned quickly into becoming an elite kayaker, but when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2003, she had a major flare-up and had to sit out the 2003 world championships. “The experience gave me a new outlook on why I wanted to paddle.” She started taking medications and her condition stabilized and at age 20 she was the youngest member of the 2004 Olympic Kayaking Team. “I wasn’t expected to be on the team,” she said. “It was a surprise to a lot of people and to myself. It was an amazing experience. It is like the ultimate test for an athlete.”