IT’S been a busy year for Matt Johnsen but despite fitting so much in, 2012 is a time the Broulee man will never forget.
Not only did he represent Australia for the first time at the World University Cross-Country Championships back in April, but last month he qualified for All American honours after a top 40 finish at the NCAA National Championships, where he represented Lamar University.
“That was huge,” the 24-year-old said.
“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few tears – I was so emotional afterwards.”
The November event was Johnsen’s third appearance at national level in the United States – he missed out on a top 40 place on both previous occasions.
Two years’ experience at such an elite level helped him prepare for this year’s event in the best way possible but he also put the vast improvement down to the work of new coach Darren Gauson.
“The last two years really helped in terms of knowing what to expect,” he said.
“But this year Darren helped me with being more aggressive during training and just believing in myself. I went from 89th last year to 33rd this year and I think I just had a change of thought.
“I looked back on all the training I’d done and I thought ‘why can’t I be in that top 40’. I refused to acknowledge the pain I was in so I pushed through it and it worked out really well for me.
“In most sports, it’s more mental than physical and if you can get on top of that, then you’ll beat most guys.”
Of the 40 runners who qualified for All American status, around half were international athletes and Johnsen said he had reflected deeply on his journey from Broulee Primary School.
“You don’t realise how big All American status is until you do it,” he said.
“My reaction afterwards was one of raw emotion and then I thought back to Broulee, right through Moruya Little Athletics and then all the trips to Canberra and Sydney.”
Johnsen’s parents, Annie and Peter, watched their son achieve the highest recognition given out in American collegiate sport through a live internet stream.
“I was rapt for him because I thought he did really well last year when he finished 89th,” Annie said.
“Peter and I were watching the stream but they only really focus on the top two runners so I had to count all the way back and I realised Matt had finished 33rd.
“My husband didn’t believe me at first but then I said ‘I think I know my own son’.”
Johnsen has excelled with his athletics this year but there has been far more to his time in America than just cross-country.
He has maintained a B+ average in his studies (physical education teaching) and has even fit in a few college basketball and football matches.
“I’m heading into my final year but I’ve loved it at Lamar and I’ve met some really good people.”