Josh Johnson, a junior at Marian University in Indianapolis, approaches his studies as he would an interval workout on the bike – give an intense effort that’s purposeful.
On weekend racing trips, he’ll pick out his toughest school assignments and block out an hour or two and give it total focus. “OK, I’m going to try to get one thing done… Be intentional,” Johnson, 21, said. The approach helps him from feeling overwhelmed by his academic and athletic duties. “It really is just a balancing act.”
Such is the life as a collegiate cyclist.
Johnson keeps a full schedule as a business marketing major at Marian who competes in road cyclocross, mountain biking and road racing for the school’s highly regarded cycling team. He also races road for the domestic elite Bissell-ABG-Giant team and cyclocross for the Giant Factory Team. He’s all SRAM all the time — XX1 for mountain, RED 22 HydroR hydraulic disc brakes for ‘cross and, for next road season, Force 22.
In recent months his races have taken him from CrossVegas in Nevada to cyclocross races in China to the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships in North Carolina, where Marian finished second. “With a schedule as busy as his we really work hard to keep his training fun and yet challenging while still maximizing his rest times to stay physically strong and mentally focused,” said Nate Keck, Marian’s assistant cycling coach and cycling center manager.
Despite the pressure, collegiate cycling is known for its friendly team-oriented atmosphere. USA Cycling collegiate racing also is an increasingly common path for promising cyclists, or a gateway into the sport for students looking for a new competitive outlet once they’re on campus. Pro SRAM athletes who competed in collegiate cycling include Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Ted King (Middlebury College) and Cal Giant Specialized’s Elle Anderson (Dartmouth College). Marian is a model collegiate program, with support from the school and 23 national championships.
Growing up in the northeast Indiana city of Fort Wayne, Johnson started mountain biking with his dad. He progressed to ride for the local Men of Steel Racing Club, which put him in touch with Marian cycling coach Dean Peterson.
Men and women’s collegiate cycling disciplines – road, MTB, cyclocross, track and BMX — are scored together to determine the top collegiate cycling program of the year. “It really is a team effort,” Johnson said. “It’s taking these disciplines that have normally been individually focused and being able to bring the team aspect to them. I think that is really healthy because cycling can be a lot of self-motivation and people focused only on themselves.”