If the measuring stick of success is commitment, then Tommy Johnson is a million dollar stock market investor. This senior at North Thurston High School is the definition of commitment.
Unlike his teammates, when Johnson finishes his cross-country practice at North Thurston, he doesn’t head for home, looking forward to dinner and the couch. Instead, Johnson, the Rams’ top runner and returning state qualifier, heads for soccer practice with the Blackhills Football Club team.
“Sometimes my legs hurt a lot,” Johnson said.
But fatigue is offset by one thing. Sometimes he gets to share news about a race he just finished.
“Usually, I’m really excited,” Johnson said. “I remember as a freshman when I’d come to soccer practice after cross country practice and I’d tell everybody how my race went, what my time was, they were always excited.”
Three times a week, Johnson, who is now a senior, heads from cross country workouts to soccer practice. On Wednesdays, soccer practice starts at 5:30 p.m., right after cross country. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it starts at 7:00 p.m. Dinner must wait to late on Wednesdays.
“I don’t like to eat too much before soccer practice,” Johnson said.
And he really shouldn’t snack before cross country practice either. He’s been known to throw up after a race or after a hard workout. It’s another marker of Johnson’s all-out (literally) commitment.
“He’s got a strong solid work ethic,” said Steve Coker, North Thurston’s cross-county coach. “He put in the time over the summer.”
Johnson ran about 50 miles a week over the summer, establishing a base for the year to work from.
“We’re expecting great things from him this year,” Coker said. “He’s really committed to working hard and leading the team.”
Johnson’s favorite thing about cross country is the comradery, the slap-on-the-back, good-job friendships. Naturally, there’s the thrill of finishing first, which Johnson did at the season kickoff meet at Wonderwood Park on Wednesday with Timberline, River Ridge and Yelm. But for Johnson nothing tops the friendships.
“I like the team factor, being with the other guys,” Johnson said when asked what he likes about cross country.
He then reflected on his freshman year, his first in cross country.
“The upper classmen were super cool,” Johnson said. “They were like the coolest guys.”
Now, Johnson is that upper classman, the one younger runners look up to. He’s encouraging runners.
“I usually try to lead more by example,” Johnson said. “I try not to be complacent. I keep working hard.”
When his high school days are over, Johnson will be ready to launch (again literally) his career. He’s applied to the Air Force Academy and West Point. He’s hoping to follow the footsteps of his dad, David Johnson, who spent 28 years in the Army and was a colonel.
“My dad loved it and went to cool places, living in Germany for a bit,” Johnson said.
Like Johnson, Dylan Willis, a senior on the Rams’ cross country team, has been influenced by his dad. Willis started turning out for cross country because of his dad.
“He’s a big runner,” Willis said. “He runs all the time. I started running with my dad. He encouraged me to do track and I tried out in middle school. I really liked track.”
It was an easy transition to cross country and distance running.
“Now, I’ve done four half marathons,” Willis said.
His best time in the half marathon is one hour and 45 minutes, averaging about a 7:55-minute mile pace. Over the summer, Willis ran nearly every day, usually doing 6-mile runs. Running faster is always his goal.
“A lot of it is the personal improvement,” Willis said. “How fast can I go? Where is my limit? It’s up to me.”
Besides running, classes and studies, Willis is also involved in a robotics club and plays snare drum in the school’s marching band.
“So, I’ve got a lot of things outside of school,” said Willis, who started playing drums in seventh grade. “I stay busy.”
Like Johnson, when Willis finishes with cross country he doesn’t always head directly for home for dinner and relaxation. He sometimes goes to band practice.
Charlie Jellison, a senior on the cross country team, was a teammate of Johnson’s on the soccer team their freshman year. They both figured they’d turn out for cross country to get in better shape. Jellison got more than conditioning.
“I think cross country, more than any other sport, there’s more of a sense of community,” Jellison said. “That’s what I like most about it.”
That community feel and team closeness is the goal Coker has as the head coach. It’s not just to go faster, but it’s also to have fun. And to go faster you have to work hard.
“Consistency is going to lead to improvement,” Coker said. “How they approach their work – whether it’s a run, a stretching or a core routine – if they approach that with consistency and integrity they’re going to see improvement.”