CEDAR RAPIDS — In the face of great personal loss, they opted for an opportunity to help others make gains.
Jeff Johnston recalled the moment he presented directions his sons, Ian and Roman Johnston, could travel after they learned their 23-year-old half-brother, Seth Carnicle, had died from a heroin overdose on the same day Ian completed his sophomore season at the district golf meet for Cedar Rapids Prairie.
“The first thing Ian said was, ‘How’d he die? Drugs?’” Jeff Johnston said. “I said, ‘Yep.’ Man, you could have heard a pin drop.
“I was like, ‘OK, boys. We’ve got two roads.’ I said this is the one I’m on. I asked them to join me. Neither one of them said anything. Not sure if they even heard me but here we are.”
All three opted for the path to honor Carnicle and create something positive from the personal tragedy. Their experience is chronicled in Jeff Johnston’s book, “This One’s for You. An Inspirational Journey Through Addiction Death & Meaning.” The story alternates between heart-wrenching and uplifting as it discusses that fatal day, the effort to raise awareness and money to help those battling substance abuse and the impact made by the golf community.
“The main thing is to honor Seth’s legacy,” Jeff said. “He’s not here to do it, so someone has to do it for him.
“The book was a journey for me and I feel I know Seth better now than when he was alive. I had to do some research on some of the things he was struggling with. One part was honoring him. The second part was making sure what we went through wasn’t going to happen again or lessen the opportunities for those things to happen.”
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The 224-page work addresses the family’s relationships, eye-opening statistics on substance abuse, motivational tools and touching tributes, including the lyrics to Roman’s song dedicated to Seth called “Open Book.”
The word “Undeterred” is emphasized throughout the book, describing the family’s approach. Almost a rally cry.
“It was persevering in the face of adversity,” Jeff said. “I thought that is a great way to live your life. Today is a gift. I may not have tomorrow. Appreciate it.”
The book outlines the events of Oct. 4, 2016 in gritty detail. Carnicle, Prudence Johnston’s son from a previous marriage, had battled substance abuse. As Jeff dropped Ian off for the state qualifier meet, he received a call to inform him of the devastating news that Carnicle had overdosed at a hotel room in Waterloo. Jeff opted not to burden Ian with the news, allowing to focus clearly on competition.
Jeff returned home and made the hour drive with Prudence to the scene, describing what it was like being allowed to walk in the empty room where Carnicle had died. The emotional account can have a visceral effect.
“I wanted it to be a shocking book, but I wanted people to shut it halfway through and say, ‘I’m going to go hug my kid and tell him I love him’ because you may never see them again,” Jeff said. “That part of it worked. I feel like I succeeded in the book.”
The dilemma shifted to how he was going to break the news to Ian and Roman. He was direct and offered the paths that each could take — one of despair, anger and hatred that could result in a similar fate or accept that suffering was a chance to do something great.
The decision was an inspirational effort in charity by Ian and Jeff becoming the founder of Choices Network, LTD., a nonprofit geared to promote and encourage healthy lifestyle choices for teens and young adults, while educating parents.
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In an attempt to honor his brother, Ian, now a golfer at University of South Dakota, began to raise money for Area Substance Abuse Council with each birdie that he sunk and followed with a point to the sky to recognize his late sibling.
Ian’s campaign generated more than $25,000 through the American Junior Golf Association. His work garnered the 2018 Jerry Cole Sportsmanship Award presented to the junior golfer who best promotes integrity and sportsmanship through golf.
Jeff recalled the swell of support from the local community once the family’s story went public. He approached Ellis Golf Course for the 2017 fall varsity opener. Parents, players and coaches were handing him donations and offering prayers.
“I owe the golf community something,” said Jeff, who remains close to the Prairie program attending fall competitions. “They helped me deal with this.”
The book notes how Ian’s legacy with the Prairie golf program extends beyond his state tournament appearances. Prairie Coach Erik Columbus created the Ian Johnston Award that will go to a senior golfer who exhibits excellence in the classroom, community and on the course. This is in addition to the $1,000 golf scholarship in Ian and Carnicle’s name.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed,” Jeff said. “He’s an 18-year-old and they’re naming an award after him and it had nothing to do with golf. That put a huge band-aid on a wound I had. I’m indebted to Prairie and Coach Columbus.
“I told Ian you have a huge opportunity not a burden. You have an opportunity to honor Seth and do great things.”
The book will be available Sept. 25. Preorders are available at thechoicesnetwork.org/book and all profits of the book will be donated to Choices Network LTD.
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