Tag Archive for: Olympic Diving

This is Part III in a series on Olympic diving hopeful Steele Johnson, who just completed competition at the US Diving Olympic Team Trials in Federal Way, WA.

By Ernie Geigenmiller

During my first of several interviews with 16-year-old diving champion Steele Johnson when discussion came to his personal achievements he would quickly change the subject.

I asked him about being a 10-time national diving champion. His reply: “Yes, it’s true, but you know my brother (Race) is an awesome football player here,” he continued. “He’s worked so hard to get where he is – we are so proud of him.”

I did eventually get the answers I was seeking, but in the process I learned a lot about his family.

“My mom is a professional actress and singer,” he said. “My dad was a baseball star in college, my sister Hollyn is awesome. I am so thankful I come from a great family. They are so supportive of what I do.”

He emphasized the support he has, and that without them it wouldn’t be possible to be in competition with the nation’s best divers: Olympians David Boudia and Thomas Finchum, as well as Nick McCrory, and others.

Steele and his diving partner, Toby Stanley, got second place in the Men’s 10-meter Synchro Platform this week – only behind Boudia and McCrory.

Steele's Adventures
Hazel Dell Christian Church youth group having fun in the snow.
Steele is in front with wearing the pink hat.
 “That’s our Steele,” says Corina Redmon, one of Steele’s church youth leaders at Hazel Dell Christian Church, in Carmel, Indiana. “Just being around him you wouldn’t know he was a world class athlete. He will talk about his diving success, but only when asked. And then he quickly changes the subject.”

Sound familiar?

“We have been so excited about his diving this week at the Olympic Trials,” Redmon continued. “The Sunday before he left our pastor brought him to the podium and announced to the congregation Steele was heading to the Olympic Trials. Several people didn’t even realize he was a diver. He just doesn’t flaunt it.”

The young diver mostly keeps his two lives separate.

His mother, Jill Johnson, says “because he’s home-schooled, he has his diver friends and his church friends, and when he’s not at the pool, he’s just Steele, the kid I have to remind to go to bed early, and to clean his room.”

Redmon said Steele doesn’t like the limelight away from the pool.

“We just see him as a good-looking, well-spoken young man who loves God,” said Redmon. “He’s always very helpful and knows how to have fun.”

Spencer Redmon, a fellow church friend, says: “He really doesn’t talk about diving, but he does talk about the latest video games and sports teams and is a lot of fun at youth group parties. In our small church groups, Steele will talk about important life matters. But he’s also the biggest joker in the group.”

The church youth group has gone to warehouses to help stock food banks, assist with the homeless and just returned from a mission trip to Joplin, Missouri (to help with tornado relief).

“He doesn’t let diving get in the way of any church friendships,” said Spencer. “He’s a very humble person and I’ve learned a lot by just watching him. He gives us a lot of hope to do something that big.”

Paul Duke, one of Steele’s small group leaders, says that Steele “is very grounded and doesn’t come across as one of the nation’s top divers.”

Student minister Jimmy Scott says, “Steele really does love his church and is part of the leadership team and encourages others. He is also a total cut up – he’s the life of the party, but not in a show off kind of way.”

Steele's Friends
Steele coaches friend Jake Smith on the fundamentals of diving.

His family says he’s quiet when he’s in new surroundings or with unfamiliar people.

But if you really want to get Steele talking, mention his YouTube VLOGS at thesteelejohnsonchannel. The world-class diver has committed to recording everyday of his life for a full year. It’s mostly silly talk about the most mundane aspects of his life, but he manages to make boring things interesting.

A recent post from Seattle featured him convincing his sister that orange chicken at a fast food restaurant was “panda meat.” It was hilarious!

The videos have Steele running around everywhere and have opened up the Johnson home to the world. So, how does mom feel about that?

“Well, we don’t keep secrets at our house,” says Jill. “We’ve always taught that it takes way too much energy to keep secrets so our life is an open book, and Steele is documenting that life. It’s all fun.”

At heart of this world-class diver is a kid who simply loves life and loves to jump off things, says Steele’s best friend, Jake Smith.

“I’ve known him for 13 years,” says Smith. “He’s very outgoing, very fun to be around, but he knows when to be serious. He’s very committed to what he wants. If he’s committed to figuring out a dive, he’ll figure it out. He’s very determined.”

Steele made a name for himself this past week at the Olympic Diving Trials. He did well, and the crowds loved him.

When Steele completed his last dive and walked along poolside, a beaming Bill Johnson, waved to his son and quietly said, “that’s my boy!”

Thirty minutes later, I was standing alongside Bill discussing the whole experience, when along comes his son, dressed in his USA Diving street clothes. We went to greet him so we could take pictures and grant me one final interview.

And then a swarm of teenagers with cameras clamoring for autographs fills the hallway, blocking traffic.

“There he is,” says one girl. “Steele, can I have your autograph? Steele, can I take your picture? Over here, please.”


Steele's Fans
After his final Olympic Trials event, Steele came up for a media interview and
family photos but was swarmed by adoring fans who wanted autographs and
photos taken with the teenage diver.

He just smiles and kindly asks each one for their name. Bill, looks on, smiles and says, “He handles this so well.” We waited for 20 minutes for the crowds to depart. The Johnson family has put their heart and soul into these diving experiences.

“Never have my other kids complained about this,” he said during a Thursday interview. “We’ve put everything we have into our kids and will let God sort out the rest. It’s been worth it. It’s been and will continue to be a lot of fun!”

After Saturday’s final interview was done (for the video documentary), my son, Aaron, and I went outside to see the fun exhibits and we bumped into Steele’s sister, Hollyn, waiting in line. I asked her about the experience.

“It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve see a lot of diving,” she said. “I’m so happy for my brother but I’m ready to go home.”

She told me some nice things about her family, media coverage and the Olympics, but her final comments struck a nerve.

She told me Steele’s a great brother, quietly saying: “He’s special.”


Steele Family
From left to right: Steele’s father Bill Johnson; grandmother Judy Lugar;
sister Hollyn Johnson; Steele; brother Race Johnson; Grandpa Lugar,
and mother Jill Lugar Johnson.