Kerron Johnson, the former Belmont basketball star stuck in Romania due to COVID-related travel restrictions, has made it back to the United States.
In a phone interview with Yahoo Sports, Johnson said he got on a return flight Saturday in part because of a travel tip provided by the publicity surrounding his circumstance.
Johnson got back to his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, at about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday and was surprised by his wife, Gina, at the curbside pick-up area. They only waved to one another, as they won’t see each other for 14 days because Johnson is quarantining.
Gina Johnson is nearly eight months pregnant and had lost faith that her husband would return in time for the birth of their son.
“Man, it’s honestly a sense of relief first,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview. “Excited, second. But mainly relief that I’ll be able to be there for her and for him. It’s a big stress off your chest. She said she’s been sleeping better, and I know it’s an added stress on her. She can focus on her health and the baby. It’s really comforting.”
Johnson left Cluj-Napoca, the Romanian city where he was playing professionally, on Thursday. He got on a charter flight in Bucharest to Amsterdam on Saturday morning, and was in Huntsville on Saturday night after connecting in Atlanta. He’s quarantining with his parents, but Gina couldn’t resist seeing him from afar at the airport.
“I drove up to the airport to see him in person and make sure it was actually real,” Gina Johnson said in a phone interview. “I’m very relieved. I told him my heart rate went down, literally. I feel a lot more relaxed.”
Kerron Johnson said his mother cooked him an apple pie, his favorite, to celebrate his return home. His mom also made him his first home-cooked meal in three months. He chuckled as he admitted that his first American fast food indulgence after returning home was chicken fingers from Zaxby’s.
The publicity around Johnson’s story, which Yahoo Sports reported on May 28, led an American couple also stuck in Romania to contact Gina Johnson. That couple was able to figure out a way home on a charter flight on May 31 and gave the Johnsons a roadmap to do the same.
“[The publicity] helped us with information and people just pouring out ideas and different avenues,” Kerron Johnson said. “Especially in this climate that we’re in right now. I had people from all races reaching out. It was nice to see the love, that people care for one another and wanted to see me get home to my wife.”
After weeks of being on hold with airline customer service and stuck in red tape and delays, Gina Johnson was able to reach out to the person at Tarom Airlines who was putting together charter flights. Gina Johnson was finally told by the women running Tarom’s charters that if Kerron Johnson brought paperwork with him proving he’d be transiting to another country, then they’d let him on the charter to Amsterdam. This had been counter to what the airline’s customer service had been telling the Johnsons, and the American Embassy in Romania offered little help or guidance.
Johnson is the brother of Lions running back and former Auburn star Kerryon Johnson. Kerron Johnson starred for legendary Belmont basketball coach Rick Byrd and took part in three NCAA tournaments with the Bruins. He’s played professionally for six seasons.
The Johnsons will now focus on transiting their Australian Shepherd, Kota, back from Romania. Gina Johnson said they’ve been told that will take a few weeks.
Kerron and Gina Johnson’s son is due on July 20.
“It’s the feeling where everything is what it’s supposed to be,” Gina Johnson said. “It’s normal now.”
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