Since 1984, our Travel & Training Fund has helped fuel the dreams of hundreds of deserving athletes. Many of these women have gone on to capture national championships and Olympic gold medals, including figure skater Michelle Kwan, alpine skier Picabo Street, judoka Kayla Harrison, gymnasts Kerri Strug and Gabrielle Douglas and many others. Jennifer Johnson, a wheelchair table tennis player who won gold and bronze medals at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games in addition gold and silver medals at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games, is also on that list. In December of 2012, she was inducted into the U.S. Table Tennis’ Hall of Fame, but what has she been up to in the 16 years since her golden Games in Atlanta?
Jennifer Johnson, a Mandeville, Jamaica, native was diagnosed with polio at age five and has used a wheelchair ever since. The future Hall of Famer didn’t pick up table tennis until her teens, but it is the sport that she credits with helping her overcome her crippling self-consciousness about having polio.
“We were introduced to lot of sports; I liked table tennis a lot,” she said. “It’s a sport you don’t have to make a lot of adjustments to play with anyone. You just need a table, a racket and balls and you have a game going. That’s why I like table tennis. You don’t need to do anything different to play.”
She competed for the Jamaican Paraplegic team in table tennis and basketball until 1980, serving as the captain of the Jamaican basketball team that claimed a silver medal at the 1971 Pan American Games held in Jamaica and 1972 Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, Germany — before her family immigrated to the United States when she was in her 30s.
She joined the U.S. Paralympic Table Tennis Team in 1983 and, in her first Paralympics as a member of Team USA, she earned two silvers in the 1984 Games. In Seoul, 1988, Johnson claimed a gold and silver medal.
Johnson applied for and won a grant from our Travel & Training Fund in 1994, just two years before her Paralympic swan song in Atlanta. At those Games, in front of the home crowd, Johnson claimed her second Paralympic gold.
“I just lost it,” she said. “Between that and Seoul, (where) I won one of my gold medals on a net ball, those were the two best moments.”
Johnson continues to compete in several tournaments each year in the U.S. along with a few international paraplegic tournaments each year. She also remains active on many boards and in many table tennis organizations. In December of 2012, she was inducted into her sport’s Hall of Fame at an annual banquet at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino during the 2012 U.S. National Table Tennis Championships.
“I think I’ve done everything I need to do, I’m just enjoying my fruits now,” Johnson said. “I can’t see myself setting anymore goals as far as table tennis. I enjoy the sport now, if I win an event that’s icing on the cake.
Johnson is married to husband, Denton, and has a son, Anthony, and two grandchildren, David and Brianna.