Girls Swimming: Birth defect doesn’t curtail active Lyons diver Allie Johnson

Story Image Western Springs, 10/22/12--Lyons Township High School student divers Allie Johnson (black suit) and Kelly Ryser (fuschia suit) practive their dives Monday afternoon after school. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Story Image

Updated: October 23, 2012 6:28PM

When diver Allie Johnson needed a hand at a recent meet, teammate Kelly Ryser was there to help.

Johnson doesn’t let many things limit her despite her birth defect. She was born without a fully developed right arm, but the Lyons senior from Western Springs encountered some trouble getting out of the pool at the Barrington Invitational Oct. 6. The pool has a state-of-the-art gutter system for limiting waves. The distance between the pool deck and the water level is greater compared to other pools.

After completing her first dive, Johnson couldn’t get out.

Ryser, Lyons’ top scoring diver this season, walked over, reached out and helped pull her teammate out. Ryser lent Johnson her hand for the next 10 dives in the meet. Ryser won with 324.0 points, but Johnson will always remember Ryser’s gesture.

“She grabbed my hand,” Johnson said.

As the oldest of Mark and Laurie Johnson’s three children, Allie can do just about anything with her one arm. When asked what she can’t do, Johnson answered with just one thing.

“I can’t do the monkey bars,” she said. “Maybe I can’t do some other things, but I will still try.”

Johnson is the only member of her family with a disability. Her younger brother Ryan is a sophomore at Lyons and another brother, Will, is in fifth grade.

When she isn’t diving, Johnson likes to go horseback riding or snow skiing. Growing up, she played soccer, youth baseball with boys and one year of softball.

For now, Johnson is focused on the end of her diving season. The West Suburban Silver meet is at 5 p.m. Friday at Hinsdale Central followed by the Downers Grove South Sectional meet Nov. 10. Ryser, a sophomore, is one of the favorites in both meets while Johnson likely will aim for a Top 10 finish.

“I’ve been diving with her for two years, since I was a freshman,” Ryser said. “She has always stood out as a great role model. She’s been such a good friend. I will hate to lose her on the team.”

Johnson, one of Lyons’ captains, competed at home for the final time in a dual meet against York Oct. 18. When the high school season ends, Johnson will likely dive competitively for the final time. She is looking forward to attending a college in Colorado and study psychology, perhaps pursuing physical therapy as a graduate degree. She has grandparents that live in Colorado.

Johnson missed 2 1/2 weeks of the season due to a back injury that flared up during a diving camp over the summer at the University of Indiana. She continues to wear a back brace when she isn’t diving.

Johnson started diving in middle school with Lyons’ club team.

“I didn’t want to do swimming,” Johnson said. “That was not something I appreciated. I would get tired and die in the pool. I’ve done a little bit of gymnastics, so I tried diving.”

Christy Williams is in her sixth season as Lyons’ diving coach. Williams also coaches the middle school club team, which competes on an exhibition level.

“Allie is a very quiet and timid girl and when she dives, you can tell she really loves the sport,” Williams said. “Even though she was a beginner, she quickly learned a bunch of new dives. Her passion for it is always happy.”

With one arm, Williams said Johnson is not able to torque and twist as well as able-bodied divers. Williams has made other adjustments for Johnson.

“She has more core strength for her,” Williams said. “She adapts using her legs more because she can’t easily throw.”

Johnson has not worn a prosthesis since Kindergarten.

“It became more of a burden,” she said.

But when her mom went to work for a prosthesis company, Laurie heard through a friend about therapeutic horseback riding. Allie joined a now-defunct organization called Cowboy Dreams, but now rides for the Braveheart Therapeutic Riding Center in Harvard. Now Johnson has become a riding instructor for young kids and has even started coaching beginning divers with the Lyons swim club.

“She took to [riding] very quickly, almost immediately,” said Laurie Johnson. “I know she has had a passion for it at a very early age.”

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