NORMAN — Many of us have been caught up in the excitement and drama of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And due to media scrutiny, some dramatic stories have emerged. In my estimation, none has matched the tragic story of Bill Johnson.
It happened in 1984, in the Sarajevo Olympics. Johnson earned his spot on the U.S. Olympic team his own way, ignoring advice from coaches, training the way he wanted to train with his own rules. His natural ability and determination propelled him down the hill into the pages of history: the first American to win a medal — let alone a gold medal — in the downhill skiing event.
Unfortunately, his rebellious and damaging lifestyle robbed him of the accolades and rewards most Olympic medalists enjoy. He was omitted from the 1988 team because of poor relationships with team members and coaches, he lost an infant son in a drowning incident in 1992 and his marriage ended in 1999.
In an attempted comeback, hoping to generate income that would dig him out of poverty at 40, in Whitefish, Mont., on The Big Mountain, Bill Johnson fell at a speed exceeding 60 mph, resulting in a brain injury that left him in a coma for three weeks. A stroke followed that and now at 53, Johnson resides in an Oregon nursing home waiting for death to finally give him peace.
One can only hope the coming years will hold better things for the current medal winners. The Olympics is a mountain top experience for most; however, coming home doesn’t always measure up. Some learn everything there is to know about their sport, but fail to learn how to have fulfilling lives.
The Rev. Matt Fitzgerald is the Sr. Pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Chicago. He recently shared a quote from the famous astronomer, Pierre Laplace, who said: “What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense.” The truth of this statement follows me through my life experience. While I do claim to want “the truth,” I realize no one has the truth. All we have is our life experience and the hope that one day we may actually “know.” Until then, we use our hope and faith to cope with whatever life brings.