Creig P. Sherburne/Atascadero News •
The Johnson children, from left, Maddie, 11, Brody, 7, Branden, 9, Cody, 5, nearly missed Wednesday’s All-Comers Meet. But Brody wanted to run. · Cody Johnson runs the youth hurdles during Wednesday’s All-Comers Meet as his siblings cheer him on.
The Johnson family of San Luis Obispo almost didn’t make it to the 13th annual All Comer’s track and field meet at Atascadero High School on Wednesday. But most of the family did show up, thanks to the insistence of Brody, 7, who wears his Batman shirt to run the track every year.
“I was kind of tired,” Donna Johnson, the mother of six, said. “But he begged.”
And so five members of the family of eight showed up. Donna said that Rylie, 13, wanted to come, but was home sick. And Lexie, 15, was at a birthday party.
But Brody didn’t run alone. Cody, 5, wore a Superman shirt as he ran his heart out, and Branden, 9, had a red, white and blue U.S.A. shirt on. Maddie, 11, wore tall, colorful socks that were a blur as she sped up and back.
What prompted the youngster to beg to come to Atascadero on such a fine summer evening?
“Because we love track,” Brody said. “It’s fun running.”
“I like first place ribbons,” Branden added.
The family’s love for running probably started with Donna. She ran through high school and college. She ran through pregnancies. Her kids rode bikes alongside her as she ran. Then they ran beside her as she ran.
“They were all born to run,” Donna said with a smile.
But even running with her family wasn’t enough for Donna. She was the head girl’s track coach at Atascadero High School for many years. So driving over the grade to run is nothing new to her.
And cheering for her kids — biologically hers or not — is also nothing new to her, as evidenced by her pro cheering voice as she watched her children in their various races through the warm evening. Her energy was high, and that high energy was obviously catching — all four of her children that were present were full of smiles and enthusiasm.
Which, according to Donn Clickard, AHS’ former athletic director and current president of the Greyhound Athletic Foundation, shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
“There was no coach in all my years who brought more energy to her craft than Donna Johnson,” Clickard said.
Three of the four Johnson children ran a 400-meter relay together. Running is generally a very solo sport, but in a relay, racers hand a baton off to the next runner. It means that if one of the three runners has a bad race, they all have a bad race. But the Johnson kids agreed that they all had a great race on Wednesday.
But they also participated in solo races through the night. 100, 200, 400, and 800-meter races all saw at least one Johnson kid in a lane. Maddie said she prefers the longer runs, but the boys all said they like sprinting a little more.
And they’re good at it.
Sure, natural talent and a lot of practice help, but Brody said he’s inspired to run faster by his Batman shirt.
“It makes me go fast,” he said.
Mind you, the young man doesn’t believe the shirt gives him super strength or anything. He said the shirt is an inspiration to him. Sure, he could run just as fast in any other shirt, but the Batman one gives him a little extra psychological “oomph.”
Branden had something similar to say about his U.S.A. shirt.
“It makes me feel like an Olympic runner,” he said.
Maddie said that her standout clothing item, her tall, brightly-striped socks, were inspired by her mom’s bright socks, but also have the practical upside of keeping her feet and ankles warm.
She also said that ribbons aside, as a runner, she just knows when she’s doing well.
“I can feel it,” she said. “I’ve got better times than last [year].”
Branden agreed when he said that while he likes blue ribbons, the most important thing is to run as fast as he can. If somebody can run faster, that’s OK with him, he said, as long as “I know I did my best.”
All the Johnsons are involved in other sports, not just running. They are variously involved in soccer, baseball, basketball, football and volleyball. While they can’t always be on the same team or even in the same league, they remain a tight-knit group.
“In soccer and other sports,” Mattie said, “we encourage each other.”
Donna’s pride not only in her children’s accomplishments but in their attitude and obvious love and friendship was totally obvious as she spoke about them. And it was with that pride that she said she really doesn’t have to push them to do their best.
“They do that themselves,” she said. “I just support them and their drive.”