April 26, 2012
Living It: Aaron Johnson
By Carina Huggins

"The downside of my career, seeing death from inches away for no good reason, sheds new light on life and what is really important and actually worth worrying about."


If laughter bounces off the walls alongside the wall balls, CrossFit AI members know it is coming from Aaron Johnson. The 31-year-old Calgary firefighter and public safety diver is known for his positivity and the grin he sports during the toughest of workouts.

“The downside of my career, seeing death from inches away for no good reason, sheds new light on life and what is really important and actually worth worrying about,” Johnson says. “At the end of so many people’s lives, when it is too late, there is the realization that life is finite and priorities change. I think that I was lucky enough to realize this at a young age. I quit a high paying job so that I could spend more time with my fiancée and friends, and truly enjoy my work and life.” 

Fueled by experimentation and a desire to live life to the fullest, Johnson’s varied athletic background was a perfect fit for CrossFit. “I love to constantly challenge myself to see what I am capable of by experimenting with all sorts of modalities – whether that be running, swimming, biking or adventure racing. I am always challenging myself in one way or another.” 

This same philosophy applies to his nutrition. Johnson stresses the importance of taking time for self-education and making nutrition a lifestyle. Despite the CrossFit-associated ribbing that he gets from the fire hall guys (“It shows they care!”), Johnson’s stuffed pork, wrapped in bacon with homemade gravy is a huge hit. “I don’t believe in doing a half ass job of anything and this goes for my food intake.”

At the 2011 Canada West Regional, Johnson was in it for the experience. “I love CrossFit and would not miss out on a chance to go have fun on a weekend with a bunch of awesome people.”

During the deadlift/box jump workout, the weight and reps began to hit home. “I stopped roughly halfway through, knowing that I was probably going to hurt myself.”

Spurred on by the energy of the crowd, Johnson persevered, but came away knowing he would have to develop his strength. To prepare for the 2012 season, he added three strength sessions per week following Bill Starr’s 5x5 regimen. The linear progression, coupled with “a couple extra liters of whole milk a day” and regular workouts, produced considerable improvements in overall performance. These improvements moved Johnson into the top 20 in his region at the conclusion of the 2012 Open. “I feel stronger with all movements, from the Olympic lifts to handstand push-ups.”  

Johnson looks forward to the high caliber of competition that his team CrossFit AI will face at Regionals in April at the world class Richmond Olympic Oval. Johnson finished a respectable 18th in the Open with his teammate Dan Rogers in 14th place, and both have elected to give up their individual spots to compete in the team competition.

Amidst the chaos and adrenaline of competition, the mental focus of this firefighter will shine. Just three months after the 2011 Regionals, Johnson completed the Canadian Death Race, a 24 hour, 125 km adventure race that passes over three mountain summits with 17,000 feet of elevation gain. Many racers break down mentally or physically long before the finish line of what is considered one of the toughest races in the world. There was a lot of “chit chat with myself,” Johnson smiles. “Those 24 hours reinforced the value of positive reinforcement and focusing on the task at hand and what needs to be done. Real life does not have a pause or rewind button. Everything has to go right the first time.”