Rotarian T.Shane Johnson is a truly great man; although he would never describe himself as such. Born in Arcadia, Florida, and raised on a ranch in an even smaller town nearby, his childhood was full of amazing experiences punctuated by moments of terribly demanding chores, the hope and disappointment of hunting wild game for food, and the stark fear for his life when ridding the area of alligators. Mentored by his dad, he came to know hardship and crisis mixed with a fair amount of a boyhood joy for life. Who could know what the future might hold? T.Shane’s ultimate calamity came after he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. One bright day, full of the vigor of his twenty years, he headed his motorcycle for Corona, California. On the way, he was deliberately crashed into by a car of gang members. He flew off the bike at 45 miles-per-hour and slammed into the corner of a brick wall where he was robbed and left for dead. His wounds included a smashed rib cage, internal injuries to his lungs and other vital organs, and a punctured bicep that was damaged to the point of bleeding out. Although he was in excruciating pain, T.Shane cheated the grim reaper by dragging his battered body to a fire station where there was medical help. During the hospital airlift that followed, the emergency medical team did their best to keep him alive, but he lost the ability to breathe, flatlined twice, and was resuscitated twice. A third clinical death came at the hospital, where for a final time, the doctors and nurses brought him back from the brink. Challenged by his dad to choose the pain of continuing rather than giving up, he set out on the road to recovery, where, in the first two weeks, he lost over 50 pounds due to his injuries.
Eventually, reasonably whole again, T.Shane left military service—he insists there is no such thing as an ex-Marine—filled with an entrepreneurial spirit that he had first experienced as a lad. In his twenties, he built a successful mortgage business and was enjoying a six-figure income when, in 2008, the market collapsed, and he lost everything but a beat-up old car—a short-term luxury that he lost when the vehicle was badly rear-ended. He was left to walk everywhere, seeking to earn enough money to buy the single meal he would eat each day. Ultimately, he became homeless; a condition that lasted for two years. However, with the same determination that helped him recover from his near-fatal injuries, he got past it. He practiced what was to become the title of his second book, Keep Your Feet Moving.
Today, T.Shane, the founder and owner of several successful businesses, has become a best-selling author and a top-notch motivational speaker. Using the nickname, T.Shane, in recent years he has dedicated himself to raising money for homeless veterans and calling attention to the devastating rate of veteran suicides. To accomplish this, he founded Hike Across America, the title of his first book, and completed several treks across the United States. On his 2018 journey, he hiked (walked and ran) up to 22 miles a day carrying a thirty-pound backpack from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles, California.
This year, he will start on 9-11 from ground zero in New York City and travel down the east coast carrying a 100-pound backpack representing the burden of leadership. Along the way, he will visit historic sites, including the White House and Pentagon, military installations (for example he will be hosted aboard an aircraft carrier in Norfolk and speak to the crew of 4,000), and Rotary clubs on the route. He plans to attempt three world records—two along the way and a final one by running the Space Coast marathon and breaking the world record time for a marathon while carrying a 100-pound backpack. The goal of this 2019 Hike Across America is to raise 1 million dollars for the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program that is building specially adapted smart homes for our most severely wounded heroes. They also provide home modifications, mobility devices, and adapted vehicles to our injured, wounded, ill, and aging heroes.
T.Shane’s plans for the 2020 hike include four major deserts, each presenting a different challenge, to raise money for clean water programs supported by Rotary.