INDIANAPOLIS — An Army Reserve veteran who saw a need for more support for his fellow servicemen and women decided to use his talents to raise awareness for the cause.
Running 100 miles, Crawfordsville native Dustin Johnson caught the attention of Hoosiers everywhere when he used just 24 hours to complete the distance on Feb. 1.
“It served several purposes: To challenge myself and to challenge other people ... and it also helps to raise awareness,” Johnson said. “Not just to (challenge) veterans but people who are like, ‘Hey, this guy went out and ran 100 miles in 24 hours. Maybe I can get up and go out and walk or run a mile, or just go to the gym today.’”
Team Red, White and Blue, a national veterans’ nonprofit based in Atlanta, backed Johnson for the run. Team RWB is just one of many veterans’ organizations with which Johnson has become involved since leaving the Army.
“As soon as I got into kind of the veteran world and helping raise awareness for veterans’ issues, that became my passion,” Johnson said. “You see it a lot of times with the people you connect with. I, personally, was never deployed, but I’ve got a lot of friends I’ve met and people I’ve served with that have experienced those kinds of things. So, it’s become really close to me.”
Johnson runs for RWB as lead volunteer at its Indianapolis chapter. He can often be seen holding a flag while running in 5K and half marathons.
“We’ve even done groups runs. So, like for the Monumental Half Marathon, we had a group of about seven of us and we all ran with the different branches of the flags, the American flag and the POW flag,” he said.
Budgeting his 100-mile run into 10-mile segments, Johnson said he received overwhelming support during each portion. He credits his wife Leslie for supporting him and challenging him every step of the way, and Crawfordsville natives Scott Perry and Sean Grady for their inspiration.
“It really started with my cousin (Perry) who lives there in Crawfordville,” Johnson explained. “He told me one day that I should do a marathon. I said, ‘I’ll do a half marathon, first, and see where it goes from there.’
“I didn’t have a dad growing up and (Grady) was someone who stepped in as like a father figure to me when I was growing up in Crawfordsville,” he added. “They were instrumental in making me who I am today.”
Johnson completed his first half marathon in Bloomington’s annual Hoosier Half Marathon and FTK 5K. It was then he said he became “obsessed with running.”
His obsession begun in Bloomington, Johnson largely utilized the streets of Westfield to complete his latest challenge. What he did not expect, though, was the support and the reception which awaited him.
“For the first 60 miles, I was actually breezing through pretty quickly,” he said, citing a support team that was with him the whole way. “When I got to that 60- to 70-mile leg, I started to get some mental breakdown. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m getting into my head a little bit; I’m not feeling it.’ We were on the back end of it but it still felt like there was so much to go. My feet were hurting and I was in a lot of pain, but they just kept encouraging me to keep going.”
With about six miles remaining in the second-to-last leg (84 miles in), Johnson foot struck a literal pothole. That was when, Johnson said, his knee “went.” He then made it to the 90-mile point with help from his wife and members of his support group.
However, he still had 10 to go.
“We got back to the house where I was based at, and there were about 30-plus people waiting for me to try to figure out how they could help me with my last leg, and they didn’t know I was hurt,” he said. “There was this guy there, he didn’t know me and he’d never met me before — he’s someone who has ran 100-mile distances — he was like, ‘Hey, you’re going to be in pain whether you quit now or finish. You’ve got all these people here supporting you. This is going to make the difference of what kind of person you are.’”
Johnson simply replied, “OK, let’s do it.”
Johnson finished the final leg of his journey with seven others at his side, his wife included. He “walked, shuffled, and probably would have crawled” at that point amid severe pain, he said.
“I knew we were doing this for a higher purpose and a higher reason,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t just stop there. No matter how much pain I was in.”
A Westfield park was designated as the final point for the day. Friends had informed the Westfield Police Department of his late-night finish at the park, where many were waiting.
Little did Johnson know, officers and firefighters from WPD and the Westfield Fire Department were also waiting for him, despite the last leg taking three hours to complete.
They even used caution tape as a finish line.
“My wife went with me and we finished hand-in-hand at the finish line,” Johnson said.
For more information about veterans’ services or Team RWB and its many efforts, visit www.teamrwb.org.