As blazing fast as he was on the gridiron, Chad Johnson never ran track growing up in South Florida.
He said he was too into football and soccer as a teenager at Miami Beach High to ever really give it a chance.
In fact, the only race Johnson really ever ran while he was still a full-time athlete was against a thoroughbred horse named Restore The Roar back in 2007. Given a 100-meter head start in the furlong race (200 meters), Johnson beat the horse by 12 lengths in front of 8,000 people at Cincinnati Downs to raise money for charity.
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Now 39, Johnson’s racing days are past him. But he’s found a new appreciation for it and a budding young star to root for: his 12-year-old daughter Cha’iel Johnson, the nation’s fastest pre-teen in the 400, 800 and 1500 meter races.
Just like her Daddy, Cha’iel exudes the same confidence her six-time Pro Bowl father did during his playing days with the Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins.
“My goals are to break records, get gold medals and make my family proud,” Cha’iel said Wednesday morning moments after she eclipsed her national record for the girls’ 800-meter race (12-year-olds division) with a time of 2:14.80 to win the AAU National Club Championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
“I did race my Dad before, but he said he pulled a hamstring.”
Already a two-time national champion (she won a Junior Olympic title in the 400 meters as a 10-year-old and the 800 meters as an 11-year-old), Cha’iel, who runs for the Miami Gardens Xpress Track Club, followed up her performance Wednesday in Orlando by posting the fastest time for a 12-year-old by 10 seconds in the 1500 meters (4:47.92) on Thursday morning. It was the first time she had ever run in the event.
“Now we’ve got some decisions to make,” Miami Gardens Xpress Track Club coach Darius Lawshea said. “She’s qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics in Detroit later this month in the the 200, 400, 800 and now the 1500, but she can only pick three to compete in. Either way, I’ve got full confidence she can win all three. She’s amazing. She likes challenges. She’s like her Dad.”
Lawshea said Cha’iel, who will enter the seventh grade in August and who is eyeing Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas as her future high school, always pushes herself to train long hours, often asking for more work than he has planned for her.
A father of six, Chad Johnson said Cha’iel’s competitive personality reminds him a lot of his own.
“Since I didn’t run track, I didn’t understand times and how everything worked,” Johnson said. “It’s been a learning process to get to know how good she really is. They’ve been using football analogies to help me understand what she’s doing.
“I’ve run with her sometimes and had some fun. But she’s at that age now where she wants to be with her friends. I’m not cool anymore.”
Johnson said he also has a 15-year-old son who plays football and another younger son who plays baseball. He said his other daughters are into dance and fashion. Everyone in the family, Johnson adds, is competitive.
Johnson said he usually travels to all of Cha’iel’s big races and will be with her for the AAU Junior Olympics in Detroit (July 31-Aug. 5) as well as the USATF Junior Olympics in Kansas City the week of July 24-30.
“It’s great,” Cha’iel said of having a famous father. “Because my dad is one of the best receivers in football all-time, and I’m one of the best young runners in the nation.”