National Guard soldier already Jiu-Jitsu world champ, headed to second world championship

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - At 39 years old, many athletes are hanging up their hats. Not Aaron Johnson though.

For years, Staff Sergeant Aaron Johnson has repaired vehicles at the Indiana National Guard. That's his day job, but at night, he begins his second full time job.

His home away from home is a Jiu-Jitsu gym in Greenwood.

“I’ll spend roughly 25 hours a week working out,” said Johnson.

What began as a wrestling passion in high school and college, morphed into a second full time job. Johnson was the 2015 Jiu-Jitsu world champion. He was up for another challenge though, so in May, he tried out for the USA Grappling Team.

“It’s basically a hybrid version of Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling and judo and sambo,” described Johnson.

He made the team, beating out competitors 10 and even 15 years younger to earn himself a spot at the Grappling World Championships next month in Belarus.

“We’re all floored and what?! That’s what you did over the weekend? That’s great!” said Master Sergeant Jerry Wurm, a friend of Johnson’s.

Humility is in Johnson’s DNA. Friends and coworkers are surprised when he comes back from a long weekend draped in medals.

“He doesn’t really talk about it. He’s not a soldier that sits around telling war stories,” said Wurm.

Johnson may be a soldier not used to telling war stories, but one that’s certainly been through battle.

“A week after I got off the plane from Vegas when I tried out for Team USA, I got sick, couldn’t understand it and went to the hospital,” said Johnson.

Johnson has suffered two pulmonary embolisms. One was so severe, he didn’t know if he’d recover. Both were easily enough to stop or slow down any average athlete. But the mat kept calling. Johnson said he had to prove to himself that he could do it, that he could win another world championship.

“I’m one of the best in the world in my weight class, I might as well give it a shot and see what happens,” he said.

Johnson is also the wrestling coach at U-Indy. He leaves to compete in the Grappling World Championships on September 30.