Persistence | Carissa Johnson

Posted on July 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Fitness is a journey.

No matter your age, your surroundings, or your background, we each have our own path when it comes to fitness. Your battles, challenges, and obstacles are unique, but the key to succeed is always persistence, dedication and consistency.

My journey is no exception.  Filled with mountains and valleys, I’ve overcome more than I could ever imagine.  I truly believe you never know what you’re capable of until you try.  So stop underestimating yourself, letting others opinions guide your life, and stop taking God’s blessings for granted. Health is fleeting, life is short, and grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s green where you water it.

When I was in high school I was a Varsity soccer captain, a cardio queen, and I was tiny. I was eating a healthy diet but had no fat and little muscle. People questioned if I was anorexic, which bothered me and prompted me to try increasing my caloric intake, but with no real improvement. Finally, when I began lifting my appetite increased, I ate more, and I started developing some incredible lean muscle mass. For once in my life, people stopped judging me.

Fitness became my life, I started modeling and became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Some training days were easy, others were more challenging, sometimes my will-power was down but I made fitness a priority. I rarely took a rest day because a morning workout was so routine for me. Persistence was key. I stuck with it and saw change, even if it was a little change week by week, but I never quit.

I only quit once life forced me to (something I never saw coming). On May 16th, 2011 I was blind-sided staring death in the face as a speeding  SUV hit me head on crushing my legs (part of my fitness identity) and pinning me against a steel fence. I could never have imagined the fight that would emerge from my soul; the fight for my life, for my legs and for the life I once had. Ironically, exactly one month prior (April 16th, 2011) I reached one of my ultimate fitness goals of earning my WBFF Pro card by training harder than I ever had and without a coach or team.  It was a dream come true.

Obviously my traumatic accident changed everything. I was physically helpless and my identity as a fitness professional seemed to have been crushed with my legs that day. Patience isn’t my strong suit, so having to sit and wait while I healed was one of the worst experiences I ever had.

Despite my situation I didn’t give up. Realistically my dreams and lifestyle needed to change, but helpless on the couch I made the best part of my day fitness related. I did dumbbell arm exercises off the side of the couch; I couldn’t help but workout even while I was stationary.  Unlikely as it seems, fitness was my outlet even then. I wasn’t sure why I still had a burning passion for fitness when I was confined to a wheelchair, but I did know I wasn’t ready to let go of my fit lifestyle.

Several months passed, my leg muscles atrophied and I experienced muscle loss in other areas. Fortunately I kept a strong core and arms thanks to my resistance exercises and persistence. Six months after the accident my bones finally fused. Once they fused I encountered new challenges with my legs, due to the fact they were now made of metal. My joints felt squeaky, I battled excruciating pain, and had to learn how to move all over again.  I had to re-learn how to walk, use stairs, squat, etc… My knees were weak and, with a crazy amount of muscle loss, so were my legs. Most the time my movements looked ridiculous because my balance was off.

During this time I decided I had to change up my cardio.  I absolutely loved running; it was a time to clear my head and reset, which made it all the more disappointing to lose this ability, even once my bones fused. I resorted to other forms of cardio like the elliptical and Stairmaster but still missed running.

After a little more than year of rehabilitation and training my hardest, I built up a decent amount of muscle and decided it was time to finally make my Pro debut.  My legs were a mess and I didn’t even dare put on heels until a month before the competition.  Nonetheless, I put on my heels and competed.

While finishing my first competition was an extremely gratifying milestone, I couldn’t stop there. After the competition I continued working to regain the muscle I had lost, and the following year I looked better than ever, despite the nasty scars on my shins.

Unfortunately with more activity my joints felt like they were deteriorating even faster than the doctor indicated they would. I felt every move in my joints and got to the point where it seemed my joints were so stiff they needed to be oiled. I attempted to continue running, but got frustrated every time my body failed me. Running and jumping were nearly impossible so I decided to have surgery once again. The outcome of the surgery was uncertain as to whether it would actually help or potentially cause more harm, but I decided it was worth the risk.

I had two surgeries in the fall of 2013. After each surgery I had major physical restrictions and limitations, but rather than sitting back and feeling helpless, I hopped on a stationary bike and pedaled with my one “good-ish” leg to get my cardio in; I wasn’t willing to lose more muscle than what was naturally out of my control. It seemed odd to most, but even the little bit of activity I was able to manage made a huge difference in my physical and mental well-being.

The pain and recovery time was annoying more than anything. I just wanted to work-out at full intensity, which I hadn’t been able to do since pre-accident 2011. Thankfully God allowed me to recover better than I could have ever asked for or imagined. I started slow, but over time I was able to legitimately jog for the first time since my accident. The freedom and relief I felt in the moment I first realized I could run once again was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Shortly after removing the hardware from my legs I met the love of my life, a CrossFitter who further challenged me and helped me to grow in my fitness journey. The first time he encouraged me to jump rope I nearly had a meltdown. Not being able to jump created a complex inside my mind and a mental block that I can’t even begin to explain. Crippling fear of trying something I once loved and believed was lost with my accident consumed me. I had already adjusted to my new reality, and considering trying to regain my long lost jumping ability was beyond terrifying.  Despite my fears I knew I had to try.  At first I failed horribly (in a jump roping sense) but succeeded in overcoming one of my biggest challenges: jumping and impact. My first jump was hardly a jump at all; my feet barely even left the ground. Jumping became my new focus and I continued to practice jumping a little higher every day.

Immediately after my accident I never imagined I would now be training for my 4th show as a Pro at the WBFF World Championships in Vegas August 15th.  Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my progress. I can honestly say I have made some huge gains and I’m in the best shape of my life, including before my accident. It blows my mind as I reflect on the countless helpless hours of sitting, waiting, hoping and praying, and I see how far God has led me.

God, my husband, my family, friends, supporters, and doctors have all helped me come this far. And PEAK ATP has been a key factor in my come back. I’ve never been able to push harder, with more intensity, last longer and conquer some workouts that seemed impossible. I’ve seen strength and lean mass gains unlike ever before, and my recovery times have increased allowing me to hit each workout with even more intensity. Don’t give up, count your blessings, and make decisions to help yourself grow.  Eat clean, train dirty, and take PEAK ATP to help accomplish your training goals. I promise you won’t regret it.

- Carissa Johnson

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