No foot, no problem for Montevideo high school tennis player

MONTEVIDEO -- When he was a little boy, Eric Johnson had his left foot amputated. Three months later he showed up for kindergarten eager to run and play with the other children.

Montevideo duo
(Tribune photo by Rand Middleton) Eric Johnson of Montevideo makes a return during a April 29 match with Yellow Medicine East in Montevideo with playing partner Jesse Brace guarding the baseline.

MONTEVIDEO -- When he was a little boy, Eric Johnson had his left foot amputated. Three months later he showed up for kindergarten eager to run and play with the other children.

Today, he and doubles partner, Jesse Brace, compete in the Class A state tennis tournament in Minneapolis, representing the Montevideo Thunder Hawks.

Eric, a senior, will be wearing an athletic prosthesis.

His movements on the court are fluid and quick. There's no sense he's not full-bodied.

Only the peculiar-looking adaption of lower leg to artificial foot gives him away.


There's a rectangular bar c-curved at the lower end that attaches the leg cone to a manikin-like foot fitted into his tennis shoe. The weight-bearing bar of carbon-fiber is designed specifically to Eric's height (6-foot-2) and weight (about 170 pounds) to maximize his strength and flexibility.

Johnson and Brace are 15-1 this season and the Section 3A champion.

The only loss came in a three-set match with Luverne. In the playoffs, they got some measure of revenge beating a Cardinals' pair that had one of the two players.

Brace, a sophomore, was paired with Johnson during the 2010 season. Brace is the son of Montevideo's girls tennis coach, Barry Brace, while Eric's father, Mark, is the boys coach.

Eric graduated with eight letters, four in tennis and two each in basketball and football. As the backup at quarterback last fall, he stepped into the lead role the last two games when starter Brett Bergeson sustained an injury.

Dana Johnson, Eric's mother, explains that her youngest son's athletic fortunes improved when he was fitted with the athletic prosthesis before his junior year by prosthetics specialist Todd Anderson, himself an amputee.

"All of his prosthetics work has been done at Shriners Hospital for Children," she said. "We can't say enough good things about Shriners."

The missing foot didn't hold Eric back growing up. He swam the breaststroke, played hockey and did well at taekwondo, beaming that he'd be able to break boards with his stump.


He also has an everyday prosthesis and plus an extra stout for weightlifting.

Each day, he puts a sock over his tapered lower leg, surrounds it with foam padding and then fits the hard outer shell over the abbreviated limb.

Talking to Eric, it's clear his ability to compete on, well, "equal footing" with full-bodied athletes seems like no big deal.

"I'm just trying to play," he said. "I don't feel at a disadvantage."

He's going to Iowa State University this fall to study engineering. His older brother Matt graduated from ISU, while a sister, Carrie, is at Gustavus Adolphus.

Now, how did Eric loose his foot? It happened on May 28, 1998, in the alley behind the Johnson home.

A speeding van hit Eric, grinding the lower leg in the gravel as it braked to a stop. The Johnsons raced to the backyard. Dana recalls trying to lift the van's front end off her son. Mark met the driver behind the van telling him to get back in the truck and back it off his son.

Eric was airlifted by helicopter to North Memorial in Robbinsdale in critical condition. He spent three weeks there, where infections added to post-amputation recovery. Several procedures were needed to remove the gravel.


The driver, unlicensed and uninsured, was sent to jail for one year, charged with excessive speeding.

Johnson and Brace have a typical draw for outstaters. They must play a pair from one of the Metro tennis powers, The Blake School. Private schools have long dominated the small-school tournament both in team and individual.

The Johnsons have attracted a lot of media attention all ready this week. Both Channel 4 (WCCO) and Channel 11 (KARE) traveled to Montevideo and ran pieces on Eric, who overcame an horrific accident to become an all-around athlete and top student.

What To Read Next
Get Local