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IN THE SPOTLIGHT Volunteer enjoys helping athletes succeed

Tribune-Democrat - 2/8/2020

Feb. 8--When the 43rd annual Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games kicks off at Seven Springs Mountain Resort on Sunday, Gary Johnson will be there.

The Paint Township man is one of the many volunteers helping athletes compete Sunday through Tuesday.

For about 20 years, Johnson has been helping athletes in cross-country skiing. He took up the challenge before retiring from AT&T.

"I got into Special Olympics when we were homeschooling our six children," he said. "I was a big cross-country skier. This gave myself and my children something to do. I've been helping off and on all these years."

Johnson has a passion for the outdoors.

Helping athletes to succeed is motivating for him, Johnson, 74, said.

"To see some of these people put their heart and soul out there and really strive to do their best under some very awkward disabilities and circumstances is really inspiring," he said.

"Whenever I get down, I just think if that person can push themselves like that, what I have to deal with is pretty minuscule."

Johnson earned a degree in Russian from Youngstown State University and a degree in psychology from Pitt-Johnstown.

He has been owner or part owner of several area businesses including Tuxedo Manor on Main Street, in Johnstown, and Frosty Korner and Clear Shade Outfitters, both in Paint Township.

He worked as department manager for the Penn Traffic Co. and also was a founding member of the Benscreek Canoe Club.

Johnson is a nationally certified Tai Chi instructor and has been a fitness instructor at Laurel View Village and the Johnstown Senior Center.

"I'm a fitness junkie and have been for years," he said.

Johnson has been active in local Christian radio and was a missionary to Russia after serving as a Russian linguist for the U.S. Air Force.

Not everyone needs to be well-educated to volunteer. All they need is the heart of a servant, he said.

"Just a willingness to show up," Johnson said.

Some volunteers help prepare taxes, teach people to read or teach athletics and others are surrogate parents and grandparents.

"There are so many good organizations that need helping hands," he said.

Johnson, and his wife Pam, are now planing to volunteer at the Cambria County Humane Society. Being an active volunteer is far from being a burden -- it's enjoyable, he said.

"It's a different kind of work and rewarding," he said.

"When you work, you have to be there. When you volunteer, you feel a greater sense of purpose because you want to be there, because you're helping someone."

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