April 2, 2013
Joe Johnson: The Front of the Pack
By Kate Rose

"Watching the Open last year without even starting CrossFit, I thought it was the coolest thing. Anyone could participate and take a stab at Regionals."

Photos by: Heather Kearns

Joe Johnson was told he’d be stuck at the back of the pack; that he’d never be able to do what the other kids could.

He didn’t listen.

“Cystic Fibrosis causes mucus in your body to become thicker, causing blockages where it shouldn’t, especially in the pancreas and lungs,” Johnson says. “It stops the pancreas from producing enzymes to break down food, and leads to breathing difficulties.”

Johnson has lived with Cystic Fibrosis since he was 5 months old. He had been losing considerable weight. He was put on digestive enzymes so he could process food, and started to gain the weight back; now 22, Johnson continues this regimen daily.

“Treatment consists of six enzymes for most meals, sometimes eight. For snacks, it’s four to six, depending on the amount of protein and fat the meal has. I probably take about 40 enzymes a day, because I just eat all the time. I have a prescribed multivitamin that I take two of every morning, along with two Omega 3s, two vitamin Ds, and one vitamin C,” he explains. “I also take a nebulized inhaler. It has liquid ventolin and a tobramycine antibiotic. The ventolin opens up my airways to get the tobramycine deeper in my lungs. The antibiotic is used to fight a fungus in my lungs called Pseudomonas. I use the nebulizer twice a day, morning and night.”

Growing up with Cystic Fibrosis, Johnson was told to expect to be slower than the rest of the kids his age.

“As a kid, I was told that I might not be able to perform physically, as well as the other kids my age. I didn’t want to accept the back of the pack in gym class,” Johnson says.

“It drove me to prove them wrong and work harder to be at the front of the pack.”

This year, Johnson is competing in his first Open at CrossFit Resurrection in Barrie, Ontario. He maintains an impressive regime to keep on top of his condition.

Johnson found CrossFit while shoe shopping online in 2012. He saw a video of someone working out in a CrossFit gym and started to do a bit more research.

“I started to watch the Games workouts from 2011 and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I love working out and someone made a sport of it. It seemed too good to be true — there had to be a catch.”

He found CrossFit Resurrection and plunged in.

“Watching the Open last year without even starting CrossFit, I thought it was the coolest thing. Anyone could participate and take a stab at going to Regionals,” he remembers. “My goal this year was to make it to Regionals, and have fun with it and see what kind of experience it is.”

Johnson laughs when he sees athletes refer to things like ‘Fran lung’ online.

“Things like ‘Fran lung’ and ‘WOD cough’ are an everyday thing for me. I'm constantly coughing up mucus and clearing my lungs. I would have to say I do get it, but I just don't notice it because it’s a part of my life,” he says.

Johnson is forced to take good care of his lungs, so during a workout, he feels he suffers less than others.

 “It's a totally different story when I finish, though. At times, I've noticed myself after a WOD trying to take mouth full of air to bring oxygen into my body,” he says. “I think this is mainly from my heart rate being so high. As soon as my heart rate comes back down, I feel ready to go at it again. That wasn't the case when I first started a year ago, but now my recovery has become faster and faster.”

So far, he’s ranked 17th in Canada East. If he can stay close to that spot, he’ll achieve his goal: an appearance at Regionals. In 13.1, he managed 169 reps. He followed that with 318 on 13.2, 261 on 13.3 and 105 on 13.4.

“I’m excited to see where I can go. I’ve changed my goals from just going to Regionals for the fun of it, to doing the best I can and seeing what kind of ranking I can get by the end of the weekend.”