A former track standout returns to the sport he loves

Spc. Zebedee M. Johnson ’08 is the rare individual who discovered at a young age that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. After experiencing a year of paralysis at 8 years old, Johnson developed an infatuation with running that carried him from youth track teams through middle and high school, where the Charlotte student was a 400-meter champion at the state level.

Catamount track and field coach Danny Williamson ’84 MAEd ’86 sold Johnson on WCU with the opportunity for a full scholarship pending his first-year performance and a chance to improve in his sport. “Zeb was a very outstanding young man in our program, a first-class and highly competitive individual,” Williamson said of Johnson, who still is the school record-holder in the indoor 200-meter and the outdoor 4×100-meter relay. (At 39.59 seconds, the latter is the fastest time ever recorded by a Southern Conference school, Williamson said.)

Following graduation, Johnson decided that professional running was not secure enough to provide for himself and his young son. Instead, in October 2009, he joined the Army. Johnson was assigned to the 377th Transportation Company out of Fort Bliss, Texas, and after completing basic training he deployed with his unit to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. When toward the end of his deployment Johnson found time to run again, members of his unit witnessed his zeal and talent and encouraged him in his pursuit. An “Iron Chariot Athletic Challenge” organized by his battalion gave Johnson the much-needed opportunity to compete. After nabbing the prize for the 100-meter dash, he began to set long-term running goals.

Johnson left Camp Arifjan a few weeks after the 100-meter race and continues to train. He participated in indoor meets in January and plans to enter a track meet in March in Charlotte. “I will always find competition. I might have to drive to go get it, but I’m willing to prepare,” he said. Members of the 377th have bigger plans. “They have encouraged me to go out for the trials in 2012 – the United States (Olympic) Trials,” he said.

Published in edited format from a story by Spc. Jamie C. Smith and Spc. Tara A. Keehner.