The Augusta half-Ironman Sunday marked his second event of 2009 with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training.
At the beginning of the year, the North Augusta resident decided it was time to get in shape, but he didn't want to do it alone.
"I wanted to do something for someone other than myself," he said. "I wanted to feel like something bigger than myself."
Mr. Johnson said he was never much of a runner, and his first event, the Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon in July, was difficult.
"It was physically the hardest thing I have ever done," he said.
Training with the Augusta team and Team in Training Coach Jim Christian helped him reach his goal.
"They are very concerned not only that you complete what you do but that you can complete it well," Mr. Johnson said.
This summer, the local team raised $100,000.
He enjoyed the first season so much that he signed up for the fall, with the Ironman as his event. He has already met is $1,800 goal.
Participating with the charity has helped Mr. Johnson get below 200 pounds, which was his goal for the year, and to make friends with a new group of people.
"You meet people along the way that just shock and surprise you," he said, recalling the person in his 60s who passed him in a race.
He's not alone in the races. With his purple Team in Training shirt, others recognize his motives and cheer him on shouting, "Go team!"
"It takes everything to do not start crying at that point," he said. "It's very empowering."
Mr. Johnson finished Sunday's event with one of his best swims and bike rides ever, completing the Ironman event with a total time of 6:21:38.
A friend from Atlanta even made the drive to cheer him on. Along with the "Go team!" shouts from the crowd, Mr. Johnson said the event was rewarding and amazing.
The night before the race, the team gathered for a pasta dinner where they heard from patients they are helping.
"It's a moment to reflect on why we began this; it's very humbling," he said.
"Right now I'm physically tired, but I'll be over this in a day or so," he said. "They will go on for months or years facing greater challenges than I could imagine. I have a great life."
The team will begin its spring campaign toward the end of this year.
Reach Crystal Garcia at (706) 823-3409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAMILY: wife, Jennifer
QUOTE: "You meet people along the way that just shock and surprise you."