Esterhazy athlete, Matt Johnson, will be graduating in business and marketing from the University of Regina this year. Like many grads, he will find it to be a surreal time, a time to look forward to the increasing gravity of life’s choices, and a time to look back at events and circumstances that have played out during the academic years.
While many graduates will reflect on mostly academic and social pursuits, for Matt there’s a dimension that transports his experiences into the stratosphere. You see, Matt’s passion for running, and the discipline he has brought to his ability, has taken him very far from the prairies of Saskatchewan, and he’s been to places that most of us can only imagine.
In a telephone interview this week, EsterhazyOnline encouraged Matt to look back on what he has accomplished during his time at university, specifically in the athletic world. It turned out to be an engaging discussion, and one which spoke eloquently to the power of passion, and the drive that dedication unleashes.
In 2011, Matt found himself participating in the Western Canada Summer Games in Kamloops, BC. He was there with Team Saskatchewan, and he won the silver medal in the 5K race. Not only did he place in the medals, he also found how enjoyable it was to travel, and to spend time getting to know fellow athletes from other parts of the country.
In his third year of university, Matt had the opportunity to leap to the next level. In 2013 he competed in the Can West university championships in Regina, where he took silver in 3K and gold in 15K. He also traveled to Quebec, where once more he represented Team Saskatchewan, and there he took the silver medal in the 5K.
As he continued to up his game, he started to go crazy with cross country mileage, experiencing the demands, joys and sometimes frustrations of 200km weeks. He was now running more distance in a week than some people drive in the same time period. He also went down to Florida to train.
These new levels of commitment paid off when Matt was selected to represent Canada at an international level in Uganda in 2014. He admits that he was not 100% in shape due to an injury, and had not expected the intense heat, so while he did not perform as he wanted to, the experience was priceless. He felt like he’d gone back 50 years in time when in Uganda, but with trips limited to the journey between the hotel and racecourse, he didn’t exactly get to sight-see. Once more it was the time spent with teams from Australia and Germany that brought the lasting memories.
In July of 2014, Matt found himself in Colorado. It was a vacation time, but vacation with an athletic focus. With two friends he was there to run. “We were living the life of professional runners” Matt shared. “All we did was running.” Not only was it running, it was running at altitude. While much of the activity took place at around 9,000ft, there was also the achievement of making it to 14,000ft. “Every day was painful” Matt said. “But it was also about self-mastery.”
Later in the same year, Matt found himself in the USA again. This time he was competing in the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis/St. Paul. There were athletes from all over the USA present, and Matt was delighted to win the 8K event. “It was the cherry on the cake!” he says enthusiastically.
Also in 2014, the Canadian east beckoned once more with the CIS meet in Newfoundland. It turned out to be yet another learning experience for Matt, because the race dynamics presented him with something new. While the heat of Uganda had impacted his performances earlier in the year, it was the 110km winds that brought a new challenge his way. “I moved on, and took what I could from the lesson.” Matt said.
The 2014 season closed with the Senior Nationals in Vancouver. This event presented a unique opportunity to compete against some Olympian athletes, as it was open to clubs and athletes of all ages. Matt was thrilled to take the bronze in the 10k event, and this also opened the door to being part of the Canadian Senior World Team in 2015.
And so to 2015, and what a year this has been for Matt. In February he went to Colombia (South America) where he competed in the PanAm Games which had incorporated cross country into the program for the first time. He placed 25th overall, and he was proud to represent Canada at this level.
Shortly after the South American experience, Matt went to Winnipeg where he took the gold in a 3k event, also achieving a personal best time of 8 minutes and 17 seconds for the race.
Then, he traveled to Windsor, Ontario for CIS. He went into the event ranked 10th, and upped his game to achieve 5th place overall, with yet another personal best time of 8 minutes 13 seconds for the 3k.
Shortly afterward, yet another major travel opportunity came his way. Matt went to Guiyang, China, where he represented Canada in the world cross country championships. But it was a bittersweet experience. Matt explained, “I was in great shape, ready to run a fast race, but during the race I had stomach issues. It was devastating for me. I had wanted to place as the second Canadian, but was placed the fifth Canadian in the race.” He also added, “If I do an event like this again, I will take my own food.”
And now, as his university career draws towards a close, Matt is also reflecting on his future in athletics. Will it continue? “I will keep running” he says. In fact, he intends to do it with the help of corporate sponsorship, and is pursuing that currently. “I hope I get another chance to represent Canada” he says, and to that end has his eye on the FESU world games a couple of years from now.
For now, his focus is to complete the degree. He sees the business side of athletics as being his future, maybe starting off as a rep for companies who manufacture sports equipment and sportswear, and moving upward from there. And it is for sure that the lessons learned on the racetrack will serve him in that career track.
“It has taught me to work hard, and to continue to better myself” Matt says. “I have learned that life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you have to keep moving.” Then he adds, “I think it was Einstein that said that!”
Well done Matt. Esterhazy can be very proud of you!