MSU Texas alum, former basketball player embracing challenge on U.S. Bobsled Team

Sliding into a new world

MSU Texas alum, former basketball player embracing challenge on U.S. Bobsled Team

Jace Johnson played basketball in college, where every player dreams of starring in March Madness.

But after playing basketball and earning his degree at Midwestern State University, Johnson’s biggest athletic mission was still in front of him. There’s no last-second swish that will be replayed in slow motion in Johnson’s new adventure, but he’s still trying to beat the clock as a member of the U.S. Bobsled Team. Since a young age, the sport of bobsledding had intrigued him. Like many Americans, he would watch the sport every four years when the Olympics came around.

Not long after graduating from MSU Texas (Bachelor of Science in Education) in May 2023, Johnson went to work on his bobsledding skills, and in less than six months he had qualified for the U.S. Bobsled team for the World Championships.

Johnson has competed in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany in 2024. It’s his first time being overseas. He is one of eight “push” athletes on the team.

Jace Johnson

“I wouldn’t say I knew I would make the team, but I was confident in myself and my athletic ability,” Johnson said. “But to make a World Cup team, out of 40 athletes, was good. There are some like me who have been sliding less than a year, and then some with a lot of experience.”

He’s had a chance to learn from coach Brian Shimer, who was Hershel Walker’s teammate in the 1992 bobsled. “Being on tour and learning from what some of the best all-time have done is great,” Johnson said. “My goal was definitely not just making the team. I want to win in the Olympics.”

Johnson is 6-foot-4, which didn’t make him a giant on the basketball court. So what translated well athletically from the hardwood to bobsled slopes?

“The explosiveness from the basketball court, being able to think on the fly, which basketball players don’t get a lot of credit for that,” Johnson said. “But being able to recognize and analyze while it’s happening is a skill.”

Johnson came away pleased with his season, which wrapped up March 23 back in New York. His four-man team took eighth in the World Cup Race at Lake Placid. They had taken third in the

Jace Johnson and his teammate slid their sled in a recent competition
In his first trip outside the United States, Jace Johnson competed in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

inaugural Pan-American Championship, a great feat after Johnson had suffered a concussion in Germany.

Johnson said mentally the sport is very draining. He tries to do a lot of film review with the goal of making every second or split-second count. “And you have to anticipate curves, every track is different and takes on a life of its own,” he said. 

Johnson said the speeds will reach 90 mph on a two-man sled and 94 mph on a four-man sled. “If I mess up, it can mess us up big-time,” he said. “Lake Placid was very rough on your body with the driver constantly having to make turns. Innsbruck in Austria was a one-of-a-kind stretch as you pull your brakes and then go through another curve. I try to do like I did in basketball and zone out from everybody else, just focus on what I need to focus on.”

In the European Cup, his team had two of the top three start times out of 32 sleds.

Johnson played five games in 2021-22 and one game in 2022-23 for the Mustangs. He scored four points in nine minutes played in 2021-22. But he gained much more than what numbers could ever represent.

“My teammates (at MSU Texas), I still talk to some of those guys every week, they’re like brothers to me,” Johnson said. “I’m eternally grateful for all those relationships. And my coaches, I spent a lot of time with them. We were trying to accomplish something great, on and off the court, and I’m very appreciative of them.”

Johnson says the strength and conditioning coaches and the basketball support staff were great for him to work with, and supportive of the athletes. Obviously, there wasn’t any bobsled practice at MSU Texas, but he feels his time here helped prepare him for life’s challenges. He’s chasing his dream and he embraced his first trip away from the United States.

“You see different ways of doing things and a different way of life,” Johnson said. “I’ve been receptive to trying new things, new food.”

In the 2024 season, Johnson didn’t wait till March for the madness of sports competition as he kept his eyes on making the Olympics. He admitted he wouldn’t have believed this back at 10 years old when he first remembered seeing the Olympic bobsled on TV. It wasn’t like he had any snow in Alabama to practice on.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Johnson said of his first year after graduation. “But I’m glad I took this challenge. I knew I had more athletically to give.”