Austin Johnston's love for mountain biking started when one of his favorite teachers, Tim Keith, introduced the sport in P.E. class a few years ago and he has been hooked ever since. Mountain biking has meant the world to Austin and his parents and it is just what they have been looking for since Austin was diagnosed with Autism, Severe Anxiety, ADHD, OCD and Sensory Processing Disorder at the age of 4.
“The doctors told my parents that my life would be very different than they probably dreamed. My parents refused to give up, spending a lot of time taking me to therapy, changing medications, finding the right doctors, finding the perfect school and ultimately advocating for my rights. They never gave up.”
"There is not a day that goes by that I don't relive the conversations in my head that took place on the date we got Austin's diagnosis," said Lisa Johnston. "I remember every word the doctor said, the look on his face and the non-stop tears that flowed from my eyes. I'm so thankful that I haven't blocked that day or all the other hard days that have happened in his life, because I can see how far he has come in his life. As parents, we spend each day advocating, teaching others of his differences, and more importantly helping Austin navigate the every changing world. Being a teenager is hard, and even more so for Austin who doesn't naturally approach the world as we do."
Lisa and Austin's dad, Chuck, did everything they could to find a sport that he could connect with without much success, but then the mountain bike came into the picture at the perfect time and changed everything. Earlier that year, Austin says he was made fun of for having Autism by one of his own teachers in front of all his classmates.
"I was told to not talk about how I was “different," said Austin. "Just as I started to embrace who I was, this moment with this adult, changed me. It was hard. But with my parents help and an amazing Coach, who still supports me today, I’ve been able to realize what a blessing it is to have my life. I believe that biking is a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter your gender, race, social status or ability/disability. It’s just great humans on bikes having fun and riding for various reasons.”
"For everyone that meets Austin, they see a happy child who has a huge heart," said Lisa. "What many don't see is all the things he struggles with, such as sensory issues, social cluelessness, anxiety, OCD, emotional dysregulation and difficulty with transitions and changes. These are things that Austin will never "outgrow", but instead we work on ways to manage through life with them and have fun with his "quirks". We've worked hard to ensure that Austin never uses his disability has an excuse or crutch. But to instead embrace his differences and always be a good human."
In 2008 Austin took a Drew Brother’s Ride Series Clinics, continuing to improve his skills, and sponsorships started to roll in.
“After four years of racing, I set the goal for 2019 to finally be the year that I stood on the podium," said Austin. "We traveled to two of the Southern Enduro Tour races and I took podium at both races. I also had podium finishes in all of the Arkansas Enduro Series races, which had been a goal of mine for a long time.”
With his 2019 success and growing online presence, Austin has started creating a following, although people may know him better by his catchy Instagram handle, “Turtle Boss,” Austin shared there isn’t much of a story behind the nickname. He simply loves turtles and wears turtle socks at every race.
Austin has found his place, not only in the mountain biking community, but in the Kali Krew Family as well.
“What I love most is the Mountain biking community," said Austin. "Every time I ride, I meet someone new. I often help people navigate the amazing trails in Northwest Arkansas. By doing this I have formed some great friendships with people all over the US. It’s hard for me to have conversations with people or even order food at a restaurant due to my anxiety, but talking to a fellow cyclist comes naturally.”
Austin has many dreams and goals, including going to MIT for Engineering and becoming the first professional mountain biker with Autism, but being a good human is his greatest goal.
"Those words, followed by I love you, are what my Mom says to me each morning before school or every time she drops me off to ride the trails," said Austin. "You see being a good human is the ultimate goal in life."
For Austin autism is not a disability, it’s just a different kind of ability.