Bike3 min

How Emil Johansson won big after overcoming his auto-immune disease

Back in 2018, the Swedish mountain biker was an 18-year-old with a world title to his name. But when fate turned around, his character got truly tested.
By Agathe ArmandPublished on

A star is born:

Johansson was 17 when he was first invited to compete at Red Bull Joyride, a global slopestyle event. He had never ridden in front of a crowd like that, and finished fourth. “I went from 0 to 100 pretty fast!”
The following season was huge for Johansson, taking second at Red Bull Joyride plus becoming both 2017 Crankworx and FMB world champion.
A photo of 2017 FMB World Tour winner Emil Johansson.
Emil Johansson winner of the 2017 FMB World Tour
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Global media and sponsors were just showing interest when he started to feel back pain. Suddenly, something as normal as sitting in a chair for 10 minutes wasn’t possible anymore.

The mystery illness:

Extreme back pain, bulging discs and lack of energy left him exhausted and unable to leave his bed, let alone ride his bike. He thought his career could be over before it had properly begun.
“I felt that something was up with my body. I was 18 and barely getting through the day. Everything was messed up.”
“I was 18 and barely getting through the day. Everything was messed up"
Emil Johansson poses for a portrait during training at the Crankworx FMBA Slopestyle World Championship 2020 Stop 1 in Rotorua, New Zealand on March 05, 2020.
Emil Johansson
Mountainbike Freeride/Slopestyle

The diagnosis:

His world came crashing down when he was diagnosed with the Epstein–Barr virus and Hashimoto's disease – an auto-immune disease that damages the thyroid gland.
Over the next 10 months, Johansson undertook a long recovery process. Step by step, with the right medication and his body realigned properly, he started to feel better – and began to think about getting back on his bike.
His journey back from that low point has been a story of incredible tenacity and sacrifice, and you can follow it in full in the two documentaries below.

The perfect comeback:

He returned to the slopestyle tour at the end of last year and stunned the scene by claiming a fairytale win at Red Bull Joyride beating the dominant Brett Rheeder in the process.
“If you had told me two years ago, when stuff was really rough, that this day was going to happen, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said.
Emil Johansson celebrates at Red Bull Joyride in Whistler, Canada 2019
Celebrating at Red Bull Joyride

The future:

His stated goal for 2020 is to regain the overall crown – and he could not have started the campaign any better, as the Swede wowed the judges with two brand-new moves to win the Slopestyle event at Rotorua in New Zealand.
Johansson is now back where he belongs: at the top of the sport.