Zoe Johnson Overcomes Injury to Win National Title and Commit to Utah

Just before the beginning of her competition season in January 2021, Zoe Johnson broke her ankle. The injury left her devastated. Her 2020 campaign had started with the fulfillment of a dream—qualification to the Nastia Liukin Cup, where Johnson finished fourth in the all-around, as well as second on beam and third on bars. It was one of the proudest moments of her career. 

2021, then, was supposed to resume where the shortened 2020 season had left off. Instead, injury hit. 

“Injuries happen, as all gymnasts can attest, and usually never at a good time,” Johnson said. “We all have that in common, and it is devastating to get sidelined and see all your hard work get lost.”

She didn’t give up, though, focusing on rehabilitation and on her positive mindset, and a couple of months later she was back, ready to compete and win at the North Carolina state meet, finish second at regionals and qualify to her second national championships. Johnson felt fortunate to be able to produce a happy ending for her difficult season. Little did she know that the following year would be even better.

At the beginning of the 2022 season, she debuted her Yurchenko one and a half on vault, which earned her a career high 9.875. One month later, she scored a new career high on floor, a huge 9.950 for a routine mounted with a big full-twisting double pike. Then, just two weeks later at the state meet, new career highs came on bars and in the all-around. 

There, Johnson defended her all-around title and helped her club win the team competition for the very first time. “I felt so much gratification helping our team win its first state championship,” Johnson recalled. “We had worked so hard and overcome so many hurdles, and with winning states, I had never felt closer to my team. It was a great celebration of our hard work.”

Later that month, Johnson won gold on vault and silver in the all-around at regionals and qualified again to nationals, where she won her first gold medal on bars and finished fourth in the all-around. 

After a season topped by four career highs and an impressive number of accolades, Johnson was named one of College Gym News’ five-star recruits, an achievement that left her speechless. “I was honestly shocked and in a little disbelief because there [are] so many amazing gymnasts out there,” she said. “I feel very honored to be placed in that tier.”

In October, moreover, Johnson was ready to commit to college and decided to call Utah home.

The university, she explained, felt like the perfect balance of gymnastics and academics. Indeed, she would like to study dentistry, and during her official visit she was impressed with the dental school and the small size of its classes.

Additionally, Johnson loved the atmosphere of the gymnastics team. “I immediately felt at ease with all of the coaches, which I feel is really important to me when picking a college,” she said. And “all the girls were exceptionally welcoming, and I immediately felt like I was part of the team.”

“The coaches and team are my future home away from home,” she added, “so I put how I felt with them as a priority.”

Johnson was also impressed with Utah’s fan base, which is one of the biggest and most committed in the country. “I feel like I, along with everyone else, have worked so hard at gymnastics to get to this point,” she explained. “It is immensely gratifying to see women’s gymnastics celebrated to the extent that it is at Utah.”

Once in Salt Lake City, she would like to score perfect 10.0s on vault and bars, but most of all, she would love to help the team win the national championship title that has eluded the Red Rocks since 1995.

As Johnson puts her difficult days behind her and prepares for her bright future ahead, she’s aware that there may be other hard days in the years to come. But she also knows that there’s always a way forward. If she could talk to younger Zoe, she would tell her to never give up: “You will find the right path for yourself. Your future will be amazing.”

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Article by Talitha Ilacqua

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