Since the Olympic Games in Sochi have dominated the news the past week, now is a great time to honor our chalkboard champions who are also accomplished Olympic athletes. One such individual is David Allen Johnson, a special education teacher from Oregon who earned a bronze medal in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Dave was born on April 7, 1963, in North Dakota. He grew up in Missoula, Montana, where he attended CS Porter Elementary School, Sentinel High School, and Big Sky High School. In 1980, Dave’s family moved to Corvallis, Oregon. Dave was enrolled in Crescent Valley High School, where he graduated in 1981.
Even as a child, Dave was exceptionally fit and coordinated and lifted weights from a young age. He played Little League baseball and experimented with boxing. During his adolescence, however, Dave was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease in both knees, a condition that kept him from participating in high school sports. Despite his condition, during his junior high year, he excelled in track, touch football, and basketball.
In his years in high school, Dave admits that he made some bad choices. “Basically, I just didn’t have a lot to do. I just got into trouble,” he once said. “There were ten of us who did things together a lot. We called ourselves the West Side Gang. We didn’t know what we doing. We just wanted to call ourselves something. We had nothing to do.” With these friends, Dave was involved in a series of petty thefts, mostly stealing soda pop and beer from local distributors, but there were also some home burglaries. One of the boys was caught and informed on the rest. When Dave went to the Olympic Games in 1992, he detailed his experiences to reporters, and later used the material for his book and speaking tour as an example on how a teenager could turn his life around.
After high school, Dave enrolled at Azuza Pacific University, a private Christian college located in Azuza, California. While there, he started to compete in decathlon events. At 6’4″, he put his innate abilities and his constant physical training to use and began setting records. Dave became a four-time national champion, and competed in the Olympic trials four times. He earned a berth on the US Olympic Team twice, first in 1988, and then again in 1992. During the 1992 competition, Dave suffered a stress fracture in his left foot on the first day of events. Despite his injury, he put on shoes that were two sizes too big, laced them up tightly, and completed anyway. Astonishingly, he won a bronze medal in the pole vault. Dave retired from competitive sports in 1997.
Dave earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1986, and completed the requirements for his master’s degree in special education in 2003. He accepted his first teaching position in 1998 as a special education resource teacher at Sierra Vista Middle School in Covina, California. In his year and a half there, Dave also served as the Head Coach for track and the Assistant Coach for football. For the next six years, Dave was a special education teacher, Head Track Coach, and Assistant Football Coach at West Albany High School in Albany, Oregon. He then spent two years as an Assistant Principal and Director of Athletics at Jefferson High School in Jefferson, Oregon, followed by a two-year stint as the Athletic Director at South Salem High School in Salem, Oregon. In June 2009, Dave was named as the Athletic Director of Corban University, a small private college in Salem.
After three and a half years at Corban, Dave left the field of education to become a motivational speaker. He also wrote the autobiographical book Aim High – An Olympic Decathlete’s Inspiring Story, with Verne Becker. This chalkboard champion and Olympic athlete was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. Currently, Dave serves on the local Salem Keizer Education Foundation Board, raising much-needed funding for schools and teachers. He also does volunteer coaching with his local Salem Track Club, a youth track and field organization.