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Johnson Jr. looks to come back to his roots

Curtis Johnson Jr. sees a nation lagging behind.

He saw it this past summer during the Olympics, when the Americans couldn’t run as fast as the best in the world.

He reads it in the stories about obese, out-of-shape children.

He notices a generation lacking in mental toughness.

He wants to do something about it. And though the Palmetto native is a world-class sprinter with an Olympic appearance to his credit, Johnson knows this is a problem that requires more than a quick fix.

So he’s starting from the beginning. His beginnings.

Palmetto.

“My hometown,” he said Wednesday evening.

Johnson Jr. spent the past week working with Palmetto’s track team, lending a hand while his father, Curtis Johnson Sr., coached the school’s sprinters.

But the visit was twofold — aside from logging some family time and frequenting his alma mater, Johnson Jr. was hoping to lay the financial groundwork for the facility he hopes to build in Palmetto.

“I’ve always bragged on Manatee County,” Johnson Jr. said, “that it’s one of the most talented counties in the country, based on what we’ve produced.”

Johnson Jr. is one of the favorite sons, having competed in the 100-meter dash during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and serving as a two-sport athlete at the University of North Carolina.

Now Johnson Jr. wants to give back — to his community, and most importantly, the youth of America.

He is the CEO of the Curtis Johnson Speed Development University in North Carolina, where he works with everyone from football to field hockey players.

“My training is universal,” he said. “It covers all sports.”

Now he wants to come back home. He wants to impart his knowledge on everything from mental toughness to nutrition to post-injury regimens, and he wants to do it for the kids who walk the same streets he did. He wants them to have the same sort of guidance he did, as well.

He considers his father the best sprint coach he ever had, a man he used to fly across the country if there was a problem he couldn’t fix himself.

“I want to show these kids there’s no shortcuts in life,” he said. “We’re developing the future.” Johnson Jr. thinks he knows how to develop it right, with a well-rounded effort steeped in wellness and most importantly, education.

“We have to show these kids if they don’t succeed (in athletics),” Johnson Jr. said, “what are you going to fall back on?”

At 35, Johnson Jr. feels he is at the right age to connect with today’s teenagers and adolescents. The product of what he calls a sound support system, he feels he knows how to nurture an athlete. And a proud native of Manatee County who’s tasted success and bounced back from defeat, he feels Palmetto is the right place to be.

Johnson Jr. isn’t guaranteeing a cure-all, and he knows not even the best teachers can get through individuals who refuse to listen.

But he knows there is a problem. He knows how to help fix it. And he wants to begin fixing it right here.

“We have to get the message to the people,” Johnson Jr. said. “I want to be one of the people who brings it.”

John Lembo, prep sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2097.

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