Brother’s Memory Inspires SDSU Business Student to Support Young Athletes in Need

February 6, 2024

Hayden Johnson had two gaping holes in his heart. One of those holes has been surgically repaired, the other has inspired him and his family to help needy student athletes. 

Johnson, a junior majoring in business at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University, was only 10 years old when he lost his older brother, Marcus, in a 2013 accident, leaving an empty space in both his heart and in his life.

Hayden Johnson (left) with his brother, MarcusOpen the image full screen.
Hayden Johnson (left) with his brother, Marcus

Shortly after losing Marcus, Johnson's family started the Marcus Johnson Memorial Foundation to honor his memory by providing basketball shoes to student-athletes in need. Johnson began his involvement with the foundation during his elementary school years where he assisted with the foundation’s 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament fundraiser. 

Eight years after the establishment of the foundation, Johnson became an SDSU business student, which increased his business acumen as well as his contributions to the organization. “Since enrolling in the Fowler College of Business, I’ve continually enhanced my problem-solving and analytical skills that have contributed to the foundation’s overall impact and growth,” he noted. “I’ve evolved my organizational strategy, budgeting operational management and marketing skills to the benefit of the foundation.”  

Johnson planned to use some of the marketing skills he learned in the classroom to bring more awareness to the foundation by running the 2024 Carlsbad Marathon as he wore a Marcus Johnson Memorial Foundation t-shirt. But first, he had to undergo surgery to repair a condition known as patent foramen ovale (PFO) - literally, a hole in his heart. 

Johnson learned of his condition during the spring of 2023 after undergoing a series of tests prompted by the revelation that both his father and grandmother had strokes brought on by PFO. He underwent surgery to repair the condition in July, interrupting his training for the marathon, but improving his cognitive acuity and increasing his energy. 

Johnson with the Marcus Johnson Memorial Foundation t-shirt he wore during the marathonOpen the image full screen.
Johnson with the Marcus Johnson Memorial Foundation t-shirt he wore during the marathon
“Interestingly, individuals often experience different improvements post-surgery, and one of the most common outcomes is a decrease in brain fog and an increase in mental clarity,” said Johnson. “Since my PFO closure, I’ve gained more mental clarity, experienced fewer migraines and had an increased energy level in general. It ultimately led to improved performance both in the classroom and athletically.” 

To test his new-found energy and to train for the Carlsbad marathon, he ran the Balboa 8 Miler on August 5 — merely a month after surgery — finishing eighth out of 29 in his division. Two months later, he put his training and energy to the test again to run the Pacific Beach 5K Run, this time finishing first in his division out of a field of 58. 

All this training led to Johnson’s goal of running in the Carlsbad Marathon in the foundation emblazoned t-shirt. 

“I initially registered for the marathon with no intention of doing fundraising, but I was hoping that people would ask me about the shirt which would allow me the opportunity to talk about the foundation,” said Johnson. “I completed a participant questionnaire that asked, ‘What is your why?’ and I responded about how Marcus and I shared a love for running and that my participation was to honor his memory.” His response caught the eye of one of the event’s staff and ultimately led to a San Diego Union Tribune article about the Marcus Johnson Memorial Foundation and Johnson’s dedication to the goals of the organization.

The article shared details of how the foundation has, to date, provided 625 pairs of shoes and over 1,000 pairs of Nike Elite basketball socks, along with scholarships and support for student basketball players facing financial difficulty. 

Johnson shares his accomplishment right after finishing the Carlsbad MarathonOpen the image full screen.
Johnson shares his accomplishment right after finishing the Carlsbad Marathon
Johnson plans to continue to run marathons to help raise awareness for the Marcus Johnson Memorial Foundation and he also plans to be involved with the organization long after he completes his SDSU business degree program in 2025. “Marcus was an incredible role model, and my compassion and work ethic are a direct result of his influence,” said Johnson. “He taught me the importance of being kind to other people. His thoughtful giving spirit touched many lives while he was here and continues to touch many more through the foundation.”

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