Nick Johnson is not one to back down from challenges with the amount of confidence the former Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-American displayed during his time with the Wildcats from 2011-14.
But run a marathon?
Only two days after learning about the opportunity (if opportunity is the right word)?
Luke Caswell, a family friend, visited Johnson and Johnson’s mom Michelle Mayland Johnson on Friday and the conversation came around to Caswell wanting to honor fallen Navy SEAL operator Charles Keating IV, a Phoenix native, by running a marathon today. It was four years ago to the day — May 3, 2016 — that Keating died while in combat against ISIS militants in Iraq.
“When sharing my story with (Nick Johnson) literally two days ago (without any training or preparation), he said, ‘I’m in. I’m gonna run on Sunday with you,'” Caswell wrote in a Facebook post. “I laughed while thinking to myself, ‘He has no idea how hard and how much training these things require.’
“I responded, ‘Sure man, I’m starting at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, feel free to join me.’ I found out after our conversation when his mother questioned his ability to do it with absolutely zero training that he responded, “Mom, I’m the best f—– athlete in the world, I’m going to finish it.'”
Johnson, 27, is in prime physical shape having returned from Turkey last month after his pro season there was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Basketball shape is quite different from marathon shape, however.
“Talk about grit — this kid’s got ‘it’,” Caswell wrote. “Fully expecting for him to drop at some point during the early miles in the run, (but) he didn’t. Even when I was in pain myself, the dude never complained once. I’ve never seen fire like that in someone’s eyes in my life. It was truly something incredible to witness.
“Honored to meet Nick and share an experience like this with him. Iron sharpens iron and today I hope I walked away mentally and physically harder because of him.”
Nick Johnson posted on Instagram today a picture of him with Caswell, both drenched in sweat, with the message: “So I woke up yesterday and decided I wanted to run a marathon! Thank you (Caswell) for taking me and pacing me! Today was for (C4 Foundation — a nonprofit organization created to honor Keating and provide support and resources to active duty Nave SEALs and their families).”
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So I woke up yesterday and decided I wanted to run a marathon! Thank you @caswellluke for taking me and pacing me! Today was for @c4foundation
Johnson’s mom was amazed that her son followed through and completed the 26.2-mile run.
“On Saturday he bought shoes, and this morning, I watched him get up at 3 am to stretch and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” she said. “He started to run at 4 a.m., and a little over four hours later, he finished. He never quit. He never walked. He’s never run more than a couple miles on the treadmill.
“Kind of crazy, he never ceases to amaze me, even though he’s not playing in the league (NBA), he is making the most of his talents.”
Here are some videos shot by Johnson’s mom of her son’s first marathon, all practically miraculous for a good cause:
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.