Student leads in classrooms and races

Keifer Johnson has shown outstanding leadership and improvement as a student and an NCAA runner.

Johnson’s career as a student-athlete at Western is the result of natural talent meeting relentless motivation.

Western’s NCAA cross country and track programs—two of Division II’s finest—drew Johnson to Gunnison in 2012 from his home in Highlands Ranch, CO.

“I fell in love with the running program and its strong tradition here,” Johnson said.

While he has had a successful running career by any standard, it didn’t start with immediate all-star status.

“As a freshman, I was the worst guy on the team,” he said.

The transition to a collegiate training regiment from his high school program was a shock.  

“I felt burnt out and tired,” he added. “I needed time to adapt.”

The challenges he faced running were matched by the well-known struggle of committing to a major. Johnson spent the first part of his academic career as a Marketing student in the Borick School of Business before switching to English and finally landing with both a pre-law emphasis in the Politics & Government department and a History major. He credits a large part of his commitment to Politics & Government and History to his professors, most notably Brian Bernhardt, Ph.D.

Bernhardt first had Johnson as a student when he was a freshman.

“Keifer showed a natural intellect early on,” Bernhardt said.

Despite Johnson’s smarts, Bernhardt saw room for improvement in areas such as time management and preparing properly for class. Now as a senior in Bernhardt’s constitutional law and late modern and contemporary political thought classes, Johnson has made extraordinary strides as a student and leader in the classroom.

“Keifer comes to class incredibly well prepared, ready to have high-level conversations,” Bernhardt said. “He combines both passion and real care and concern about the world and the people in it with a high level of academic rigor.”

The small class sizes, so integral to the Western experience, reveal their potential when students are encouraged to actively participate. Students must take initiative and actively engage in class. Bernhard sees Johnson as an exceptional leader in this front.

“He brings the effect of just raising the bar in classrooms,” Bernhardt added.

Thriving as a double major and top NCAA runner is a demanding and often exhausting task. Talent alone is not enough to maintain such balance.

“You need to have self-motivation above all,” Johnson said.

After graduating in December 2017, Johnson plans to pursue law school and potentially a professional running career.

Story and photo by Peter Noon.