Johnson Gets Her Kicks From Cartoon

"I want to go to [the Olympics in] Beijing in 2008," said Christina Johnson, left, who relocated from New Jersey to train in Rockville. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Melanie Ho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 3, 2006

When Christina Johnson heads to the USA Junior Olympic Taekwondo Championships on Wednesday, she'll have the Power Rangers -- Jason the Red Ranger, to be specific -- to thank.

While watching the heroes of the television cartoon the "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" combat their enemies, Johnson got the urge to try martial arts herself.

Eight years later, Johnson has found success in taekwondo and as a member of the 2005 U.S. Junior National Team will try to remain on the 2006 team in this week's competition in Atlanta. According to her coach, Ramy Latchinian, who has coached both the U.S. national and junior national teams, Johnson goes into the competition as the heavy favorite.

"Her success in such a short time, that's really unheard of," Latchinian said.

Johnson, 16, has won medals at the Junior Pan Am Championships, at the U.S. Open and at the German Open. She has also been an AAU Junior National Team member for the past two years and, as a 14-year-old, she won the U.S. senior nationals gold medal.

Those results reflect what her coach calls tremendous levels of discipline, dedication and focus that he rarely sees in someone Johnson's age. The results also offer tangible evidence of what her family has done to help her.

Technically, Johnson's home is still in New Jersey. Her father, Mike, lives and works there and Johnson and her mom, Sue, still go back there whenever they get a chance. But since April 2005, mother and daughter have also rented an apartment in Germantown so that Johnson could train at Latchinian's dojo in Rockville.

After her freshman year in high school, Johnson asked to be home-schooled and has been taking classes online through Indiana University ever since. Before home-schooling, she was missing a lot of class for competition and so distance education made sense -- it allowed her to both practice earlier in the day and to keep up with her lessons even while she traveled to Bonn for the German Open, to Eindhoven for the Dutch Open and to Aruba for the Junior Pan Am Games. But while Sue Johnson supports her daughter's move to home-schooling, it was all Christina's idea.

"This is all her choice," Sue Johnson said, adding that Christina approached her about switching schools. "This was not my decision; I thought she'd be doing softball or something. My home is in New Jersey and I want to go back to that, but this is for her and the day she tells me it's not fun, it's over."

Christina Johnson assures her mom that is not the case.

"Ever since I started, I just loved being in the ring and it's become a habit. To stop doing it would be ripping out my life," Johnson said.

Through a five-hour practice one recent day, Johnson's cheeks went from pale to completely flushed. Even when she takes brief water breaks, her concentration doesn't falter -- her back is stiff and in perfect posture, her brown hair, gathered in a tight ponytail, remains intact. And even when she smiles, she stares straight ahead as if she can see her position on the national team posted on the wall.

Said Johnson, "I've been trying to get on this team and it took me forever and I've made it and . . . "

Her voice trails off.

"I want to go to [the Olympics in] Beijing in 2008 and if I don't go there, I'm definitely going in 2012," Johnson said.

So there's planning in the long-term and in the short. In the short term, there's the final push for nationals, where Johnson qualified in both the light middleweight (121-129.9 pounds) and middleweight (130-138.9) divisions before Johnson and Latchinian decided she had the best chance of making the team by competing as a middleweight. In the long term there are the Olympics, for which the junior national team serves as an athletic pipeline.

With so much in front of her, does Johnson think about the past and what her life would be like had she not switched schools, not moved states and not watched television?

"There's nothing really in school that I miss," Johnson said. "And I can still name all the Power Rangers -- colors, names, everything."

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