For Western student and Olympic athlete Breezy Johnson, slowing down is never an option.
At 22 years old, Johnson has garnered notoriety on campus and around the world as being one of the youngest U.S. ski competitors in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Less than three weeks ago, Johnson completed her stay in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where she competed in two downhill skiing events as part of the U.S. Ski Team.
While some might assume this would be the pinnacle of a skier's career, Johnson feels it’s just another reason to keep working hard.
“The Olympics are a huge deal, but they are also like every race we do every week in certain aspects: the competitors are the same, you have the same time frame, you prepare the same,” she said in an email. “It just happens to be the most-watched race of the next four years.”
Johnson placed seventh in downhill skiing and 14th in the super-G event, which she said was her best super-G result and second-best downhill race she has had in any competition.
“I didn’t win a medal either race, but both races I skied the run I imagined was the best run I could,” she said.
Jim Tschabrun, Johnson’s former coach and the current head coach for women's skiing at Rowmark Academy in Salt Lake City would have to agree.
“I love following Breezy's results.” he said. “Her work ethic, focus, dedication, resilience and courage are inspiring and she is a great model for what it takes to reach the top of her field.”
Tschabrun, who said he’s worked with skiers of all skill levels, sees Johnson’s triumphs, which he’s been following since her graduation from Rowmark in 2013, as impressive to say the least.
“Breezy has accomplished more than a significant portion of our country's most elite ski racers in such a short time that it's been remarkable to watch her progress and achievements” Tschabrun said. “Her capacity to reflect on her own skills with a critical eye and look for opportunities to improve in all areas really sets her apart to me.”
Johnson’s final downhill ski time was 1.12 seconds behind gold medalist Sofia Goggia from Italy.
“A friend described my downhill result an ‘an amazing run and you could smell the bronze,’” Johnson said. “I just have to work to make my skiing better and hopefully in four years I can take home some hardware.”
Tschabrun’s advice to his current students seems to embody what Johnson has been doing since day one.
“Stay focused on the process, regardless of immediate results, with a vision toward the long term and do whatever you can to outwork everyone else.” Tschabrun said. “I can name tens of incredibly talented ski racers, some that even made the national team, that plateaued without reaching their potential.”
He said it doesn’t matter what they do, those who are elite in their field did it by working harder than anyone else.
From Johnson’s point of view, these past Winter Olympics were an opportunity to do just that and work even harder, though it was nice to have some fun along the way. One of Johnson’s favorite memories from her first Olympics happened right after everyone attended the closing ceremonies, when the German hockey team invited her and the alpine delegation to hang out.
“They had just won silver in hockey, which was like huge for Germany, and their bobsled team had just won gold, so we were hanging out with all of them and just relaxing with all of my teammates and other super cool athletes,” Johnson said. “Hearing everyone’s stories on how they came to the Olympics is really amazing.”
Though the Winter Olympics are over, Johnson is far from done with competing this season.
Currently in Are, Sweden, Johnson is gearing up for the World Cup finals on Wednesday, March 14, and then heads back to the United States to compete in the U.S. Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho on March 23.
“I didn’t win a medal either race, but both races I skied the run I imagined was the best run I could.”
After that, it’s the start of her offseason, and skis are momentarily traded in for textbooks as she makes her way back to Bellingham for spring quarter.
So, what does an Olympic athlete do when she’s not soaring down hills at 80 mph every day?
For Johnson, the answer might be tweeting out iambic pentameter verse, working out on campus or, according to her, grabbing some dark cocoa gelato at Sirena Gelato in Fairhaven with friends.
Johnson said she’s planning to declare herself as an English major this spring.
“I am psyched to finally be able to take Intro to Fiction writing, I’ve been waiting to be able to get into that class for a while,” Johnson said. “But also I’m excited to play frisbee on the lawn this spring with friends.”
She said she’s also looking forward to getting back into classes in Western’s honors program.
Scott Linneman, the director of the honors program at Western, remembers when Johnson first came to Western as a high schooler to learn more about the school.
“She seemed very mature and very driven,” he said. “She didn’t know what she wanted to major in and then she told me that if things worked out the way she wanted she could only come to college in the spring quarter.”
Since Johnson spends a majority of the year training and competing professionally, she’s only been able to register for one quarter a year, and this spring will be her third total.
Linneman said the honors program is able to offer its members a smaller community of passionate faculty and other students who are completely focused on learning.
“[They’re] your peers that you’re making weekend plans with and going to dinner with and they’re remarkable kids from all over the country,” he said. “Breezy is just another one of those, I think. A remarkable person that has all sorts of talents.”
Linneman said when Johnson skied her alpine downhill race, people from the honors program had a viewing party at the honors center.
“We had like 20 students over here watching it here on a screen and she did awesome.” Linneman said.
He remembers how supportive friends and classmates were when Johnson came back with crutches in spring of 2017, when she had a tibial plateau fracture after a crash at the World Cup.
“She’s just a happy person that is doing something that very few people can so we’re trying to support her,” Linneman said.
With her community at Western supporting her, Johnson, true to her never-quit attitude, is ready to prepare for her future.
“Obviously I want to go to more Olympics,” she said. “But I also want to finish my degree and am thinking of becoming a sports agent, not just for skiers, when I retire.”
While the spring is a time for Johnson to take time to study and relax, she’s already got plans to check out the slopes around Bellingham, though she’ll need to find a way up there first.
“I haven’t bought a ticket at a ski resort in about ten years,” she said. “Does anyone have a hookup at Baker?”