Wrestling opens doors for Osakis' Johnson
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Osakis’ Devyn Johnson can still remember the nerves she had walking into the Osakis wrestling room almost three years ago.
Johnson was just a 7th grader at the time. A young girl who had wanted since kindergarten to take on a sport dominated by male athletes was getting her chance. She wasn’t sure what to expect from her older teammates.
“The team and the coaches, they could have broke her dream if they wanted,” her father, Doug Johnson, said. “She was 67 pounds going into the high school wrestling room with a bunch of big, strong dudes. If they wanted to run her off, they could have.”
The fact they didn’t has helped Johnson become one of a select few girls who are leading the way for women’s wrestling in Minnesota. Johnson has captured plenty of accolades since winning a national title at the 70-pound weight class in 2009. The list includes a USA middle school girls’ folkstyle championship in 2010. She qualified for the Minnesota USA Freestyle cadet boys’ championships earlier this year.
That was the start of an exciting year for Johnson. She went on to take sixth at the USA Cadet Girls’ folkstyle championships and third in her 95-pound weight class at the cadet girls’ national championships in Fargo. She was the only women’s representative from Minnesota at that meet.
Her finish in Fargo earned Johnson an opportunity to wrestle on a U.S. National team at the Cadet Pan American Championship in Campeche, Mexico earlier this summer. An injury to the top finisher in her 95-pound weight class in Fargo gave Johnson the chance to be one of eight girls selected to compete for Team USA. She finished fourth in her weight class in Mexico, going 1-2 against opponents who were almost three years older than she was.
Chad Shilson said that willingness to go up against older opponents is one of the things that make Johnson stand out. Shilson has watched her compete plenty of times as the director and coach of Minnesota USA girls and women’s wrestling.
“She’s very strong,” he said. “Girls her size and her age aren’t as strong as her. So when her technique catches up with her strength and her speed, she could be outstanding…she has a lot of potential. She has the ability to compete at the college and senior level.”
College coaches have already been in contact with Johnson. Adrian Bruce, head women’s wrestling coach at the University of Winnipeg, drove three and a half hours to watch her wrestle in Fargo. He spent 45 minutes with her at the tournament, getting to know her and selling her on his program.
Shilson said the University of Winnipeg is one of around 35 colleges and universities in North America that offer women’s wrestling scholarships. Johnson has also received interest from Jamestown College in North Dakota and the University of Regina in Saskatchewan.
“That’s kind of my goal,” Johnson said of wrestling in college. “Right now I have a 4.0 in school and one of the coaches said if I can keep up that 4.0 and wrestle, that it would be possible for me to get a [full] scholarship. So that is something I’m really hoping for.”
It is an opportunity that has helped push her both on and off the mat. Johnson spends hours working on homework to maintain that GPA. During the summer, she works at the Tip-Top Dairy Bar in Osakis, at the Osakis Country Club and cleans houses to help pay for her wrestling trips. The same passion that drove her to put aside her fears years ago is still driving her to succeed today.
“When I was little, I saw it on the Olympics and I thought it looked cool,” Johnson said. “I kind of wanted to give it a try, but now it’s a lot more important to me.”
Johnson has come a long way in the last three years. She no longer worries about what others think of her wrestling. Her teammates and coaches have taken her in. She relishes the opportunity to face tough competition in athletes like Trenton and Brendan Coyer at the 106-pound weight class in Osakis.
“It’s those kids that are making her better,” her dad said. “Trenton Coyer is a tough kid, and he’s never taken it easy on her. He’s always wrestled her hard, but it’s made her good.”
Johnson is not the same shy girl who walked into the Osakis wrestling room a few years ago. Her success in the sport has helped her confidence soar. Her focus is wrestling in college on a full scholarship, but she still mentions the Olympics when asked where she hopes the sport will take her.
Johnson says that with a smile that indicates she knows how unlikely that may be. Wrestling has provided her with plenty of opportunities, none bigger than the chance to dream big.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘how can you let your daughter wrestle?’ ” Doug said. “I just think, how can you not? You want them to be independent, strong, confident. Wrestling does all of that for her. It really does.”