A story of heartbreak, and redemption
On an Autumn day in 2010, what Ahty Johnson thought was a routine trip to the doctor would instead be a life altering moment for her and her family. “When I first got diagnosed in high school, I didn’t realize the severity of what was happening,” Johnson says. “To be honest I thought I was going to stay overnight in the hospital, then carry on with my life .” Instead, she would go on to spend days, and eventually weeks with doctors as her track career and health hung in the balance. It was discovered that Johnson was suffering from Aplastic Anemia, a rare condition in which the body stops producing enough blood cells. With the bad news looming over her head, Ahty remained positive and decided to keep pushing, a quality that had already made her one of the most elite track and field prospects in the country.
“I realized everything I had been working for was just thrown out the window”
Ahty’s brilliance on the track began with local races in the neighborhood but eventually blossomed when she arrived at the famed Cardozo high school. Not only did she compete with upper class runners, she was often victorious, making it all the way to the state championships as only a freshman. “Nobody expected a freshman to sneak their way into state champs when they only take two people.” Johnson says. As her high school career progressed, so did her talents. By senior year, Ahty was the 2nd ranked sprint recruit in the nation and on the wish list of almost every major college program.
Before Ahty could meet her full potential however, she was met with the news on that fateful Autumn day. “I realized everything I had been working for was just thrown out the window,” Johnson says. After a few bad days though, she was committed to beating the condition and getting back to her regular life. A few months and a bone marrow drive later, Ahty did just that. Towards the end of the year, Ahty was running again, and had accepted a scholarship at the University of South Carolina.
“My sickness opened my eyes to learn about the struggles of finding a bone marrow donor in the African American community.”
As a freshman in South Carolina, Johnson went from being in and out of the hospital, to smack in the middle of the most competitive track and field conference in America. “Practice was kicking my butt and I kept getting minor injuries because my body was trying to adjust to being an elite athlete again,” Johnson says. “I’m not gonna lie, I cried some days because I was honestly trying my best but I was still at the back of the pack in practice.” After two years, Ahty began returning back to her old ways and soon, the accolades followed. Her junior year, she made it to the finals at the SEC championships, qualified for nationals and made it to the USA trials. The girl who lost almost all her scholarship offers was back, and out to prove to every other school that they underestimated her persistence, and ability to rise again from adversity.
These day’s Ahty has diverted her passion to a new goal: Raising awareness to Aplastic Anemia, and encouraging African Americans to register as bone marrow donors. “My sickness opened my eyes to learn about the struggles of finding a bone marrow donor in the African American community,” Ahty says. “I hosted my first drive on my college campus and South Carolina and I am trying to host one in New York over the summer.” Johnson has decided to use her story and talents as a platform to help her people and her community. On and off the track, she is living proof that a good attitude and consistent work ethic can help transcend almost any circumstances.