By Ann Marie Shambaugh
In addition to books and other classroom essentials, Purdue student Steele Johnson is walking around campus with something a little more precious tucked in his backpack.
The Carmel native won a silver medal in the 10-meter platform synchronized diving event Aug. 8 at the Rio Olympics. He ultimately plans to store the medal in a safe, but for now he keeps it nearby to show to curious classmates.
“When they ask me, I pull it out and let them wear it,” he said. “It’s exciting for me to see how happy they get holding that medal.”
Johnson, 20, and his diving partner, David Boudia, 27, of Noblesville, finished behind a Chinese duo to claim the silver medal. They also both competed in the individual 10-meter platform diving event, with Boudia – who was competing in his third Olympics – nabbing the bronze. Johnson finished one spot out of making the event finals.
Overall, Johnson described his trip to Rio as “a whirlwind.” Although he had 11 days in between events, he remained in the Olympic Village to train, recover and spend time with family and friends. He enjoyed meeting elite athletes from other sports and said he struck up a friendship with the gold medal-winning U.S. Women’s coxed eight rowing team.
Johnson’s parents, who still reside in Carmel, siblings and girlfriend also journeyed to Rio.
“It was really cool having them there, because they’ve been such a big part of this journey,” he said. “It was just a reminder that this isn’t just about me, and it’s not just about David, but it’s about the people who are along the way who helped us get to this point.”
Johnson hopes his journey is just beginning, as he plans to keep training and be a part of the 2020 Olympic diving team in Tokyo. He said it would “be nice” to partner with Boudia in synchro again but that “nothing is set in stone.” He also said he is considering adding springboard diving to the mix.
And while he feels like a bit of a celebrity on the Purdue campus, he expects life to return to normal soon. At least for the next four years.
“It’s humbling the fact that this is just a season of life,” he said.