As the anesthesia faded and Alex Johnson returned to consciousness in a hospital room in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he couldn’t feel the toes in his right foot.
The 23-year-old American figure skater had just undergone surgery to repair the three ligaments in the ankle he’d shredded while landing a triple axel in practice during the summer of 2013, dashing his hopes of competing in the following year’s Olympics.
Tests revealed nerve damage, and Johnson and his medical team were discussing whether he’d even be able to walk normally again.
In those angst-filled days—three years before the Minnetonka, Minnesota, native returned to the Twin Cities—he navigated a delicate mental balancing act.
He realized it was time to plan for life after skating. And yet, through nine months of up-and-down rehab, he resolved to return to competition. “There was something inside of me that knew I can overcome a lot of the things,” he says.
Finding a new path
Today, Johnson is a finance major at the U of M’s Carlson School of Management, set to intern as an investment banking analyst at Lazard Middle Market in Minneapolis this summer before graduating in December.
And while he won’t be skating in South Korea at this year’s Winter Olympics, he’s re-established himself in the top tier of American male figure skaters, placing eighth at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Johnson’s schedule is a bit different than that of his classmates. Each day is packed with classes, training, off-ice workouts, teaching private lessons, and studying. He spends many weekends on the road, either performing in shows or competing—he was in Croatia the week before finals last fall.
Then there are periodic visits to Colorado to work with his choreographer. And, of course, meeting for group projects, preparing for presentations, and completing assignments like any other undergrad.
“The Olympics would be amazing, but it’s definitely not everything,” Johnson says. “It’s the life lessons that matter. Those will help me succeed wherever life takes me.”