Losing a Triathlon Friend

>> Thursday, September 08, 2011

This affected me more than I expected, so I'm sorry if I stumble on my words in this post.

Denny Johnson, a local "racing buddy" of mine, was out mountain biking in Colorado about a month ago. He was going downhill pretty fast when his front tire blew out. (This is how I've understood it, anyway.) Denny flew over the handlebars and was seriously injured. We kept getting updates through his Facebook page, and everyone was optimistic.

Then the updates slowed down.

Finally, on early Monday morning, we got the post that we feared. Denny had passed away due to a worsening brain injury and brain infection.

I really didn't know Denny that well. We met about 18 months ago, and we've chatted at local races. I found out he was a camera buff, and we talked cameras on a number of occasions. I got to meet and talk to his wife about a year ago. Last summer, we did a long open water swim (with Julia and the gang) around Square Lake. He was really just a casual acquaintance. But when I told Pharmie that he had passed away, I was crying. (I'm actually getting teary as I write this...) It's obvious that he meant more to me than I thought.

Denny was wearing a Road ID, which made contacting his family a lot easier. (Again, this is how I've heard things, but I'm sorry if some details aren't right.) He also had an "end of life" health care directive that was crystal clear. His sister-in-law wrote "He seemed to have written it with this situation in mind." (If you want more details, here's an article with a bit more.) So I just want to tell everyone to be safe, wear your Road IDs, and make sure your family knows what you want them to do if you're ever in a situation like this. These are hard things to think about, but a few of these things made this horrible situation a bit less stressful on Denny's already distraught family.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Denny ALWAYS had his camera. I mean, he could really rival ME as far as taking his camera everywhere. Here's a photo (one of many from a huge album) that he snapped at a "Kona send-off party" for one of our local speedsters about a year ago:


Me and a bunch of local speedy women

Because I always have my camera, Denny's appeared in front of the lens a number of times at local events:


Before the 2010 Minneapolis Duathlon


Starting the bike at the Mpls Du


All smiles and just a few feet from the finish of the 2011 Get Lucky 7K


Again, all smiles as he's about to finish the 2011 LTF Mpls Triathlon

That last photo is from 2 months ago (1 month before his crash), and it's the last time I saw Denny. It's the last photo I made of him. What a smile, what a great wave..... what a way to forever remember a friend.

Denny, I'm sorry that you won't be able to become an Ironman this weekend in Wisconsin, but I'm sure you'll manage to fit in a swim / bike / run on top of the clouds now-and-then.....

16 comments:

Detroit Runner(Jeff) 6:16 AM, September 08, 2011  

Very sad. It looked like an incredible athlete.

Teamarcia 6:37 AM, September 08, 2011  

What a shame. Looks like a life well lived and he left us doing what he loved. Much to be said for that.

GoBigGreen 7:08 AM, September 08, 2011  

Thanks Steve. I was also deeply saddened by Dennys passing. He was a special man and I will think of him at Wisconsin. Thanks for the pictures.

Alecia 7:45 AM, September 08, 2011  

This is the second time this year that I have heard of someone having a devastating crash on a mountain bike. Crazy, because I've always been so much more fearful of the road.

He looks like the kind of guy who really lived life to the max and enjoyed every second.

Melissa C 7:46 AM, September 08, 2011  

I just wanted to let you know that although I don't know Denny, this post really affected me. My husband is a mountain biker, and I just try to forget sometimes how dangerous it is, and how difficult it can be to even know if someone has had an accident which can delay rescue, which may not be easy due to access anyway. I really hope this didn't happen in his case. I am thankful that we have roadids and always know where each other is riding.

Shelby 7:51 AM, September 08, 2011  

=( =( =(

So sad, however you have to look at it this way, he was doing something he loved.

Best wishes.

That Pink Girl 8:32 AM, September 08, 2011  

What a tragic loss. My heart and prayers go out to Denny's family as well as to all those in your endurance community who are grieving.
It could be any one of us at any moment. Thank you for a touching post and a great reminder to always wear identification.

Christi 8:37 AM, September 08, 2011  

I am very sorry for the loss of your friend. Please pass along my condolences to his family.

Iron Girl Nyhus 9:20 AM, September 08, 2011  

Thanks for posting Steve. We were able to enjoy a great dinner with Denny the night before his accident. He was there to cheer us all on, and, of course take pictures. Barbara, his wife, told us while we were at the hospital right after his accident that he was so very excited to take pictures of our race the following day. He was a great man and will be missed very much.

Nat 9:44 AM, September 08, 2011  

Thanks for this article Steve. I had only met Denny a few times but he was always such a nice, friendly guy. He was always ready to chat and very rarely did I see him without that big smile.

Steve Stenzel 11:42 AM, September 08, 2011  

Shelby, I wanted to note that but forgot. Thanks. It's a little morbid, but I feel the same way.

Iron Girl Nyhus, I didn't know you were out there in CO. I'm glad to know that his family had others around too.

Carolina John 12:56 PM, September 08, 2011  

Sorry to hear about this. I just lost a good friend a few weeks ago as well to a mountain biking accident. It is certainly the kind of thing that makes you grateful to be here, and be sure your Will and other personal effects are in order.

Have you updated your will since Henry was born?

She said I need a goal 1:20 PM, September 08, 2011  

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. My hear goes out to everyone that is touched by this loss. I lost my swim coach in a cycling accident last year.

trimybest 10:22 PM, September 08, 2011  

Wow, thats sad. My heart goes out to his wife. Its a good reminder to wear your road id. My condolences to you, steve on losing a multisport friend.

TriEric 7:51 AM, September 09, 2011  

Sorry to hear about Denny. At first I thought he was closer in age to you, but when I saw the pictures I now say...I want to live my life like Denny. Doing what I love for a very long time.

Keep him in your heart and mind.

Lani 5:19 PM, September 10, 2011  

I know what you are going through Steve and it sucks. I lost a dear friend and training partner in February of 2008. His son called me at the request of his mom (also a friend) to tell me that he had passed away. I remember sinking to the floor. It was totally unexpected (unknown heart issue). There are days it's not too bad, and days when I run or ride a particular route that just hurt. Will keep you and his family in my prayers.

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