Local racewalker competed in Olympic Trial, finds passion in sport

Dr. Doug Johnson has been race walking for about twenty years and has traveled around the country for meets to compete. He is now hop- ing to qualify for the Olympics.

Sean Snyder

To anyone but Doug Johnson, racewalking may be considered an uncommon sport, but to the local doctor it’s become an unlikely career that’s taken him all the way to the Olympic trials.

“Race walking dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. The first competitors were the footmen who would run and/or walk by the side of their masters’ coaches,” according to the official World Athletics’ website. “The aristocracy of the day began to stake wagers as to which of their footmen would win a race – some of which lasted for six days – and the sport became an increasingly popular professional activity during the 19th century, when it was known as ‘pedestrianism”

Doug Johnson began his race walking career at the age of 34 in 1994 when he entered the Bluegrass games with very little training. He earned a gold medal on his first race as a self-taught race walker.

The Morganfield, Kentucky native says he’s able to train for the sport almost every day with six days of the week being spent race-walking throughout his neighborhood as well as lifting weights.

“Race walking is a relatively small community so you are able to get to know many different Olympians,” Johnson said. “I started going to seminars, books and training videos with many different professionals.”

In high school, Johnson began his athletic career as a track and field runner. After completing his bachelors at medical school, the aspiring doctor began his medical career early in the U.S. Navy where the medical officer was able to have his schooling paid for as he earned a doctorate in medicine.

An eight-time master champ, Johnson has managed the Melrose trials at Madison Square Garden where his wife was able to support him. He and his wife have now been married for nearly 39 years and have four kids together. Johnson credits this as his favorite race walk he’s been in.

Johnson even went as far to compete in the Olympic Trials of January 2020 following 25 years of attempts. Johnson ended up finishing 10th out of 15 starters. To qualify, one needs a 50 km finish of four hours and 45 minutes.

“It was an honor to be competing against top level athletes across the world,” Johnson said. “A fun fact is that I’m the second-oldest person to ever compete in a race walking Olympic event.”

Race walking has managed to become a family sport as well with all four of Johnson’s kids catching the race-walking bug.

“All four of my kids are race walkers with all of them becoming national race-walking champions,” Johnson said. “They played at the college level to start with my daughter, Amanda Prince, was a four time all-America at Lindsey Wilson College.”

The now 59-year-old is typically able to compete in 11-12 race walk- ing events a year. Due to the global pandemic his race-walking career has unfortunately been slowed down. Johnson would typically travel for a weekend alone in order to compete.

“I do long race walking both in my neighborhood and on the treadmill,” Johnson said. “Sometimes my kids will join me if my son or daughter are home. The problem is that my son’s a lot faster than me so it doesn’t do him any good.”

Although race walking is big for his family, Johnson also spends his free time hiking and running. He is currently planning to climbMount Kilimanjaro with his son in the near future. This plan is currently on hold due to COVID-19, but he plans on a 2022 climb.

“If I can I’d like to continue my career towards the Olympic trials once again,” said Johnson. “If not I’ll keep at it as long as I can.”

Sean Snyder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seanwsnyder