Interview With Kikkan’s High School Coach, Harry Johnson

Train WreckFebruary 25, 20092

Harry Johnson was Kikkan Randall’s high school coach and watched her transition from talented runner to professional nordic skier during those early years. He was nice enough to answer some questions about Kikkan as a budding athlete in light of her recent astounding success today at the World Championships in Liberec. A local coaching legend, he turned a near-dead high school program into one of the most successful in the state of Alaska in only three years, and made a life-long impact on many of his local athletes. He now lives on his ranch in Bozeman Montana with his wife and participates in the popular XTERRA race series.

Patrick Stinson: What are your initial reactions today as her first coach?

Harry Johnson: Kikkan first started hanging out with me as a coach and with our other athletes when she was a junior high school student.  She was fun, energetic and most importantly, she had a passion for having fun and pushing the envelope.  Examples:  Speed record for alpine skis at Arctic Valley as a youngster, broken collar bone mountain biking, broken back at the Flat Top Flier.  She wasn’t very good at being “average” and loved life, competition, and challenges.  Obviouisly, she also had talent, but that was secondary to her passion for life.

PS: If you were following it, what initially occurred to you about memories of her personality and attitude when she had the clot problems this summer?

HJ: After I was able to get some good information about her clot problems last Spring and talked to her by email, I knew that it would be a minor set back like so many other ones she had had over the years (remember her training for track in the Clam Shell brace for her back?).  Successful people focus on the good things to come and not on the obstacles that might get in the way and Kikkan is a prime example of that philosophy.  I never doubted that she would be back on the trails and competing at the same level.

PS: What do you think the role that high school programs play in professional development and a healthy lifestyle, and what do you think she had that we’d all love other young athletes to have as well? Other comments on that?

HJ: I think high school programs can do a lot to encourage young athletes as well as, unfortunately, the opposite.  The passion for having fun, competition, training, discipline and  healthy living can all be developed in young athletes in such a way as to encourage a LIFETIME of healthy activities.  Unfortunately, some high school programs forget the virtues of something as simple as “having fun” and young athletes grow to dread the very sport that should be a source of life long enjoyment.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to win and encourage winning, but I think winning is a bi-product of having fun in all aspects of whatever sport.  I count the number of my former athletes that are still running and skiing as more important than the state and region titles that we won.  I am very proud of you and the rest of the East athletes in that regard and if a little of my passion for life rubbed off on you guys, Kikkan included, than I consider myself successful.Now, in respect to Kikkan……she had passion, she enjoyed training and racing, she had fun, and we (all of us coaches and team) kept it passionate and fun.  That should be the goal of all coaches.

PS: How well do you remember the period when she started to focus on skiing instead of running? What do you think influenced her decision?

HJ: I remember Kikkan focusing on everything :).  She wanted to work hard and win at running, she wanted to work hard and win at skiing, she wanted to work hard and win at academics, every time I mountain biked, hiked or did anything with her, she worked hard and wanted to whip me and everyone else.  BUT, all in a very good, respectful, and fun way.  Remember, her state and region championships in High School were in running, not skiing.  That said, I think that she knew that she had more opportunities to excel in skiing and, as I mentioned, had a passion for skiing, so it was a natural progression to move toward skiing.  I’m glad she did, although I think she would have been and will be in the future, successful at whatever she decides to do.  Having an Olympian role model in her Uncle and Aunt certainly would have helped her decision as well.

PS: Anything else…

HJ: As Kikkan’s early coach and mentor, I would emphasize that I am as proud of her as a wonderful, thoughtful, caring , humble young women, as I am as an athlete. She is truly a role model for young athletes.

Harry Johnson at Kikkan’s wedding this summer, all of 54 years young.
Harry Johnson at Kikkan’s wedding this summer, all of 54 years young.

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  • trondfl

    February 25, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Great interview – the secret to success is not a secret anymore just read this over and over again

  • snyder_gary

    February 25, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Nice interview! Great idea Patrick. What a fun couple of years those were. Competitive but lots of fun. I remember Harry taking Kikkan and Tara Hamilton running Crow Pass with us at death camp…they were 8th graders! Harry called it about Kikkan’s attitude: when Kikkan ran track with that brace on she was not too proud to go out and get last place wearing it…pretty soon she was winning again. Never give up when things aren’t going well!

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