Illness puts life in perspective for GV’s Johnson
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Like a kid borrowing his dad’s clothes, Mike Johnson’s pants hang loosely off his body. There’s a little extra room in his gray dress shirt, too, as he nervously chomps on a piece of gum, stopping only to bark out instructions at his players.
A few months back, this scene ” which played out at Tuesday’s girls basketball game between Grand Valley and Coal Ridge ” might have been a little difficult for Johnson to imagine.
That’s because nothing’s been the same for Johnson, Grand Valley High School’s football and girls basketball coach, since Sept. 12 of 2008, the day he had his appendix removed.
He thought his health problems would end there. They didn’t.
A punishing battle with E. coli followed, one that left Johnson weak and battered. In and out of the hospital like a yo-yo for weeks on end, the coach’s health deteriorated rapidly.
Unable to keep food down, Johnson dropped somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 pounds as doctors struggled to get his illness under control.
He missed a number of his Cardinals’ football games, and the ones he did make were a strain on his system.
But coaching hurt is better than not coaching at all in Johnson’s eyes.
“You know, I missed being with my guys and the football team so bad,” he said.
That’s why he’s treasuring every moment of basketball season.
“I’m really, really trying to enjoy this season with the girls,” he stressed. “You know, just realizing what I have.”
The coach is applying that outlook to all phases of life. He’s also savoring time spent with his daughter, Haley, and new wife, whom he married over the holiday break.
“I’m really just enjoying things,” he said. “It gives you a new perspective, a little.”
Johnson, at last, is on the road to recovery. He’s working full-time again and hasn’t had a trip to the emergency room in five weeks.
Doctors still aren’t sure exactly how he contracted E. coli. They’re not sure if he picked it up while in the hospital for the appendectomy or if it developed on its own.
That answer, hopefully, will come soon.
In the meantime, Johnson appears as happy as he’s ever been, according to his sister, Kristin.
He’s also eternally grateful to the Parachute community, which rushed to his aid in a time of need. Back in November, more than 400 people showed up at a benefit dinner put together to raise funds to help cover the coach’s mounting medical expenses.
“I was blown away,” Johnson admitted. “It was really very humbling. There was a lot of support. Our community’s been that way forever, with all our sports teams. Everyone in the community I’ve known that’s needed a hand, our community steps up and delivers. They did more than I could ever have asked for.”
Johnson only hopes that coaching the kids of Parachute is payback enough for the help the community delivered.
“The only way I can thank them is to keep doing what I’m doing for the kids,” he said. “I hope (it’s enough). … I love my job. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Contact Jeff Caspersen: 384-9123
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Glenwood Springs High School’s girls basketball team needed one last win to defend its conference title Saturday afternoon on the road at Battle Mountain.