SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 22, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Life is full of opportunities to meet amazing people and be inspired by their stories. It’s not every day, however, that you hear a story quite as moving as Michael Johnson’s. Johnson is a disabled war veteran who is determined to be the best of the best, not only among the disabled community, but among the general population as well. Morinda is proud to be sponsoring Johnson in the upcoming National Veteran Wheelchair Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mike grew up in West Virginia, where he identified as an average, scrawny, active kid who participated in various sports and extracurricular activities. After graduating high school, Johnson joined the Marines in 1967. In January of 1968, Johnson was leading a patrol team in Vietnam when one of his men tripped a wire that set off a nearby booby trap. The location of the blast happened to be exactly where Johnson was standing. He was immediately medevacked to a hospital in Da Nang, Vietnam.
“I remember there being firing in the hospital and nurses running around with their helmets, which was unusual,” Johnson recalled. He later realized that he’d been admitted to the hospital on the first day of the Chinese New Year—the day the Vietcong army made a push to take over the entire country.
From Da Nang, Johnson was taken to hospitals in Japan and the Philippines before he eventually made it back to the U.S. where he was treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington DC for several months. He also spent the better part of a year in the Philadelphia Navy Hospital and the Salt Lake VA Hospital. During this time, Johnson underwent countless procedures in an effort to treat his wounds. Due to their severity and an aggressive case of gangrene, however, both of his legs and several of his fingers had to be amputated.
“When I got out of the hospital, they tried to teach me how to use artificial legs,” said Johnson. “That didn’t work… it was too hard and too slow. I don’t like slow.”
So, Johnson learned to live life in a wheelchair. After several months of physical therapy, he bought a handicap-accessible car and drove back to West Virginia where he began his new life under a title he never dreamed he’d have—disabled.
Johnson’s transition into regular life was difficult. He found situations to be particularly challenging when he began college. Things he’d never paid attention to, like stairs and curbs and parking, were now a daily struggle. He also had a hard time with how other people reacted toward him.
“At first I felt like everybody was looking at me, and I didn’t handle that well,” Johnson admitted. “I would do things like go past people at school who would avoid looking at me by pretending to look at the moon or a satellite or something, and when I’d passed them I would turn around to catch them looking and think ‘Yeah, I knew you had to look.’”
Eventually, however, Johnson began to accept his situation and find ways to make the best of it. He was instrumental in having the accommodations for the disabled updated at his university. He also fell in love with and married his wife, Jan. They’ve been married for more than 40 years.
Johnson’s first reintroduction to the athletics world after his accident was with wheelchair basketball. Bored and stir crazy, Johnson joined a Wheelchair Athletic Association league based in Salt Lake City that included wheelchair-bound players with all different backgrounds. The WAA also has track and field events, which interested Johnson. He began participating in different races, traveling to various states to compete against other para-athletes.
Word got out that Mike Johnson was an excellent para-athlete. In 1976, he was invited to participate in the Paralympic games on the U.S. team. He competed in javelin, 100-yard dash, ping pong and lawn bowling. He placed third in the world in the javelin, second in the 100-yard dash, and won gold medals for ping pong and lawn bowling.
Despite his incredible accomplishments, Johnson attributes all of his success to his wife and eight children.
“My family has been the most important part of anything I’ve done,” Johnson said. “Although I get the credit and the cameras and stuff, it’s those people behind me and around me that have helped me do the things I do and have done.”
After graduating from college, Johnson began teaching and coaching junior high- and high school-aged kids. While he retired from coaching basketball three years ago, Johnson is currently just finishing his 33rdyear of teaching.
“I think my kids have had an advantage in having me around because it’s taught them that nobody in the world is perfect,” Johnson said of the impact he’s made in the classroom. “I hope that helps them be more compassionate.”
This summer, Johnson will be competing with other disabled veterans at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Salt Lake City. He will be competing in the hand-cycling, 9-ball pool, ping pong and air rifle events.
Johnson says his biggest secret when training for competitions is Morinda’s flagship product, Tahitian Noni Juice. In fact, he has been drinking it for 15 years and hopes to be a consumer of it for the rest of his life.
“It keeps me healthier,” said Johnson simply of why he loves Tahitian Noni Juice. “When I don’t have it, I don’t feel as healthy; I feel like I’m missing something.”
Morinda produced a video highlighting Johnson’s inspiring story and relationship with Tahitian Noni Juice. The video has won mulitple awards and has remained one of Morinda’s most-shared pieces of content. You can watch the video here.
Learn more about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games here.
Learn more about Morinda’s products here.