Cal Track: Joshua Johnson Hopes Everyone Gets On Board - Black Lives Matter

Photo by Al Sermeno, KLC fotos

Jeff Faraudo

Joshua Johnson, one of the best shot putters in Cal track and field history, has not been able to heave the 16-pound ball in an official competition since February 29, when he finished second at the MPSF indoor championships.

COVID-19 shut down the entire spring outdoor season, meaning it’s been 16 months since he competed in that arena.

Johnson spent much of the spring and summer searching out high school fields in his hometown of Moreno Valley, where he covertly tried to work on his craft. It wasn’t terribly productive.

“If I had to throw in a meet tomorrow, I’d be feeling happy if I threw over 60 feet, honestly,” said Johnson, whose personal best is more than three feet beyond that. “I think all athletes are feeling it right now.”

Johnson and his family are grateful to have avoided the coronavirus, but he believes the shelter-in-place response to the pandemic has had one unintended benefit: It's allowed people the time and space to take a closer look at the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis.

*** Johnson discusses some of experience as a young Black man: 

“It’s tragic that it took the killing of these people to bring the social issue to the forefront,” he said. “As far as what’s going on now, I’m happy that it’s a conversation that young people and old people who aren’t of color, like they’re now seeing what us Black people have to go through on a daily basis.

“I’d like there to be more change that occurs from the protests. I hope it doesn’t just die down. I hope that we still as a society can progress toward equality for all people.”

Johnson says he attended one BLM protest in nearby Riverside and came away encouraged that change is possible.

His story growing up includes a sad but familiar experience.

“It was instilled in me ever since I was a young kid, whenever you get pulled over (by police), put both hands on the steering wheel, don’t make any sudden movements … to show respect. Don’t do anything that might set him off or looks suspicious.

“I feel like in Black culture as a young Black male, it’s something you have to learn at a young age because the consequences could be deadly, as we’ve seen.”

*** Johnson talks here about how he tried to continue training during the pandemic:

Even when he found a venue for for throwing the shot or discus this summer, Johnson says it wasn’t anything like the experience he has with his Cal team at Edwards Stadium.

Johnson, whose outdoor best of 63-2 3/4 in the shot ranks No. 6 all-time at Cal, says there was no way to simulate getting advice from his coach or energy from his teammates.

“So for me, I couldn’t look at the numbers, how far the shot put was going. I had to focus more on how did it feel?” he said. “So I could get the technical aspect of it. Because the numbers, honestly, they weren’t there.”

Johnson believes he was ready for a breakthrough season last spring, but now turns his focus to 2021.

“I don’t have a numbers goal,” he said. “My personal goal is always just to be better than I was the year before.”

*** Johnson is already missing his teammate/training partner, now at USC: 

Things will be different next season after Johnson’s training partner, McKay Johnson (no relation), transferred to USC, his father’s alma mater.

McKay Johnson ranks No. 2 on Cal’s all-time list with a best throw of 64-11 1/2. Joshua has great appreciation for everything McKay brought to practice each day.

“It was amazing to have him as a teammate. I feel like coming in, he was able to offer a lot of wisdom and guidance on like what it means to be a college thrower,” Joshua said. “I’m very grateful to have the chance to be his teammate.

“Every day at practice, it’s a competition. Everyone knows he’s thrown really far. It’s like, `OK, Josh, you’re going to beat him one day.’ It’s kind of like that internal competition that’s not there but it’s there. You just always want to be the best you can be, and having him there to push you and me to push him was an awesome training environment.”

Joshua never beat McKay head-to-head in a meet, but relishes the chance to face him again at next spring’s Pac-12 championships.

“Oh yeah, most definitely. I look forward to competing against him.”

Joshua Johnson prepares to uncork the shot
Photo by Al Sermeno, KLC fotos

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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