Goodyear runner’s inspirational journey to Pat’s Run

“That’s what I love to do is go out there, run it, finish it,” Rojas said.
Published: Apr. 15, 2022 at 9:04 PM MST
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GOODYEAR, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The 18th Annual Pat’s Run is a week from Sunday. Every year, many people with different backgrounds come together to honor Pat Tillman and everything he represents. For Johnny Rojas, Tillman’s legacy of overcoming adversity and being a role model carries a little extra meaning.

“People call me like ‘Johnny Rocket’ a couple of times,” Rojas said of his several nicknames. But Rojas hasn’t always had that nickname. When the Goodyear resident started his running journey 11 years ago, he was a self-described obese man just trying to get to the finish line.

“Doing the run was brutal,” Rojas said. “Because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

A birth defect has meant that from when Rojas was a year old, he’s lived with one leg. Rojas was insecure about it as a kid but finishing that first race (a half-marathon no less) flipped a switch. “Without having any training, and then having a walking leg and just achieving such a goal like that,” Rojas said. “It felt like hitting the lottery, like climbing the highest mountain.”

Since then, Johnny’s upgraded his prosthetic and become a regular on the Valley 5K and 10K circuits. “That’s what I love to do is go out there, run it, finish it,” Rojas said. “And then at the finish line wait for fellow runners to come in so I can clap for them too.”

Johnny’s current pace is about an 8:30 to 9-minute mile. But he’s hoping that over the next two years, he can get that down to a 6-minute mile. Obviously, that’s a big jump, but after everything he’s already overcome, Johnny’s confident he can do it. The road to six minutes continues at next week’s Pat’s Run, a race that Johnny has already done seven or so times but not in-person the last two years, due to COVID.

“Oh there’s going to be so many emotions,” Rojas said. “I mean just seeing everybody out there, I think I’ll just be anxious and excited.” Rojas’ goal is to finish the 4.2-mile run in 32 minutes. But just finishing the race at all is something he doesn’t take for granted. “Just being able to appreciate every moment, every opportunity, that’s what crosses my mind,” Rojas said. “Just thankfulness to be able to finish another one, to do it again.”