This time a year ago, Steele Johnson realized his 15-year-old life was flying by.
His elite diving career keeps him jam-packed busy, training around six hours per day, six days per week. Add in the commutes from his hometown of Carmel, Ind., to the National Training Center in Indianapolis or to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and even more time slips away every day. Online high school, hanging out with friends, and being part of his church’s music group play their own roles, too.
His ultimate goal is to represent the United States at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, but Johnson wants enjoy and remember the ride too.
Johnson, who is coming into the AT&T USA FINA Grand Prix in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., (May 9-12) and World Championships Trials in Tallahassee, Fla., (May 15-20) as the reigning junior and senior U.S. 10-meter platform champion, has become his own documentarian, taking his video camera everywhere he’s gone in the past year. He shoots, narrates, stars in, and edits his videos, with friends, divers, family pets, his time stuck driving, kooky effects and general acts of teen goofiness like dorky dancing making the cut.
The results are impressive: there are 365 installments on his “Vlogs of Steele” channel on YouTube. Steele counts 1,226 subscribers and has logged 215,633 views through the weekend.
“It just felt right, and I think it’s been really fun to share it with the world,” Johnson, now 16, said. “I wanted to show there’s more to me than just diving; it lets people in to see who I really am and what my life is like right now. It’s been cool to see the random people who come to see the videos, I think they’ve become fans of the sport of diving because I am taking them with me as I go.”
|Steele Johnson competes at the 2012 AT&T National Championships
in August 2012.
Johnson picked quite a year to document, as he won the platform and platform synchro (with Dashiell Enos) events at the AT&T National Diving Championships last August, plus two platform titles and the 3-meter synchro titles at the U.S. Junior Nationals.
He now trains with 2012 Olympic platform gold medalist David Boudia and coach Adam Soldati at Purdue. Having Boudia’s big brother-like presence and Soldati’s balanced physical-mental approach has made a big difference since November.
“It’s lit a fire under me,” Johnson said. “Seeing how David practices, how he does all his dives, makes me want to do the same thing. It’s a friendly competition between us, but I am watching and learning from everything he does.
“Adam has given me a new perspective on my diving. The first thing he told me was that diving is not my entire life — just a part of it, so I need to keep everything in its place for it all to work well.”
Johnson, who is finishing his junior year of high school, verbally committed to dive for Purdue, where Soldati just happens to be the head diving coach. Johnson has already gotten into the Boilermaker spirit, as he can be spotted on top of Purdue’s 10-meter tower, wearing a motorcycle helmet, doing the lead dance for their recent “Harlem Shake” video.
Soldati said working with Johnson has been fun for both of them so far.
|Steele Johnson performs during a practice day at the 2012 AT&T
FINA Grand Prix in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in May 2012.
“My expectations for Steele are really the same as any athlete that I coach, and that is to, through the sport of diving, continue to grow and reach his greatest potential as a person first, and then as an athlete,” Soldati said, via email. “…Throughout this year we will be working on learning some of the more difficult dives that will make him competitive at the international level.”
Johnson is working on upgrading his dives and feels he is seeing progress. He feels confident, but he doesn’t want to put any huge expectations on himself for the Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee competitions.
Johnson’s diving is visually interesting, as he stands 5-11 ½, making him on the tall side for an elite competitor. He’s grown 14 inches — yes, really — over the past two years, forcing him to integrate his changing frame into the tight twists and flips of his sport.
“It’s been a challenge to my legs, arms and core, but I’ve really worked on learning to lengthen and stretch out in the air,” Johnson said. “I’ve been told I have a longer, leaner line in the air for being tall, which I will take.
“I feel good, confident right now. We’ll see what happens in Florida. (I’m) not putting any expectations on myself, just want to do the very best I can.”
And yes, the video camera will be along for the ride.
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Joanne C. Gerstner is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.