IN HER SHOES trailblazer – MIA JOHNSON
Get ready. MIA JOHNSON is going to knock you for a loop.
Occasionally we meet people who are truly extraordinary. What we learn from them prompts an entire reset in how we think and view the world. Their very presence in our life touches our hearts. We are changed. They show up when least expected, without fanfare and often in a form that offers no hint of what’s to come.
Such is the case with the woman who entered my life a year and a half ago as a website developer for this very site – MIA JOHNSON.
Her story is big, so big it’s hard to know where to start. For the purposes of this piece I’ve decided 3 years ago is a good beginning. That’s when she dragged her 63 year old, 100 pound overweight self into a personal training facility doing a face plant in the process (an unusual entry as she calls it). With characteristic aplomb she dusts herself off up and signs up for what will be a life changing journey with personal trainer David, a charming Irishman who kicks off their relationship with a friendly, “Haware-ya?”
The training was, as you can imagine, difficult. But Mia hung in. As she struggled to modify her diet, battled with elliptical machines, bosu balls and other ‘paraphernalia’, she learned she had a brain tumour (which in part explained the balance issues that put her on an angle with all flat surfaces). This is where the rubber hits the road and the power and strength of the human spirit is truly witnessed.
Whether speaking to Mia in person or reading her impossible-to-put-down, recently released book – RUNNING ON AN ANGLE you are completely disarmed with her candor, humility and humour. Mia is quite simply….amazing.
She hopes, in telling her story that it will bring laughter and inspiration to others, “even if you’ve been sedentary all your life, even if you feel hopeless about getting started, and especially if you think you’re too old or too physically impaired”. You can do it!
It’s been three years since that memorable gym entrance and Mia’s work with fitness guru David at Rep 1 continues. A year ago she decided to give running a try and completed her first 5km race. This year she has 3 races under her belt (so far) and has bumped the distance to 10km.
Mia Johnson at 66 is still becoming all she is meant to be.
Cheryl: You have an amazing spirit and outlook on life. Is this something you’ve developed over time or have you always had it?
MIA: That’s a good question! I think I just get really enthusiastic. And I like change. I’ve never had anyone tell me not to, so I tend to jump right into things and go flat out. I’ve lived a rather unusual life with lots of creativity and experimentation. Now I own my own company, the best job of all. We’re constantly adapting to new technologies, which is really exciting. And I have an irreverent sense of humour – that usually sees me through bad times.
Cheryl: Realizing you were 100 lbs overweight snuck up on you – how did it happen?
MIA: Oh I wish it “snuck up”, but no, I fought those pounds tooth and nail as they happened. At least I thought I was fighting, until I met my personal trainer. Then it was Irish boot camp and I was in for it. But working as a web developer is not a very invigorating job physically, and I gained masses of weight after I quit smoking at 50. And I have a bunch of medical conditions that slow things down — hypothyroidism, low blood pressure, asthma, bad balance, osteoarthritis in my right knee, that kind of thing. I gained so much weight without even trying that I twinned myself.
Cheryl: Personal training facilities can be more than a little intimidating…I mean there’s no hope of being anonymous! How did you muster the courage to walk in the door?
MIA: I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. I didn’t know the first thing about gyms or personal trainers. I had never considered going to a gym and I don’t think I knew anyone who had. It was all a dreadful shock. Let’s just say “fools rush in”. And I was desperate.
Cheryl: Desperation can be such a blessing! What were the greatest challenges when you started working with David?
MIA: Pretty much everything. Being half-naked in gym clothes in front of people. Balancing on one leg and walking a straight line. Climbing up onto a stationary bicycle and trying to make the pedals turn over, or getting myself onto the elliptical without the pedals flying out from under me. Getting down on the floor on a gym mat, then having to get up again! The actual gym exercises were the least of it.
Cheryl: Running wasn’t a suggestion from David to augment your training it was something you initiated on your own. I’m amazed by this for many reasons most of which is the fact that you can’t feel your feet – you have no sensation from the ankles down! What prompted you?
MIA: The first time I ran a few feet, I was just being silly. I had no idea my trainer would take it seriously. But even then I had a fleeting sense of euphoria and pride that I ran 20 feet. This feeling is still with me. It’s just so amazing and child-like to run. But seriously, because of peripheral neuropathy, I have virtually no sensation in my feet. So now I find jogging is much easier than walking, because the forward momentum seems to stabilize my balance. And I get to wear really wide running shoes with textured soles. I’m a real weeble when I just walk —reaching out to clutch at bushes and street lights to keep my balance.
Cheryl: By any and all descriptions you are an athlete Mia! How has all this changed your life?
MIA: Oh oh, don’t get too excited! I am a very slow “athlete”… more of a shuffler than a jogger. And I’m still plump and wobbly. But exercise affects everything I do, all day long. Like many people my age, the range of motions I could do with my body three years ago was very limited. Things like going up stairs, or even looking over my shoulder while driving, had become seriously difficult. You slowly and progressively get used to having a limited range of motion. Then wham! You find yourself stiff and old. Not only did I lose muscle strength, I lost my breath, my coordination, and even very basic movement skills. Three years later, I often pause to appreciate the degree to which I’ve gotten them back.
Cheryl: Your quality of life improved DRAMATICALLY! I have to ask about what you call THE BAD GUY – the brain tumour- officially known as a meningioma. How did you initially come to grips with this? How do you deal with it on an ongoing basis?
MIA: Well I’m not very happy about having a brain tumour, as you can imagine. I try to keep my head very still so I don’t encourage it to grow any faster. (Just kidding.) But it seems to be growing slowly enough that I only have brain scans every 6 months. My focus is on doing everything I can to complete projects and have fun in the meantime. I HOPE and I BELIEVE I will have a fairly normal life again after brain surgery, but just in case…
Cheryl: If you could write your memoir in 6 words —what would it be?
MIA: Hmm. She was such a busy girl?
Cheryl: Mia, by sharing yourself so openly and with such an awesome dose of humour you are giving hope, inspiration and encouragement to all…what an amazing gift. Heartfelt thanks!
Note to readers – I’ve consciously chosen not to introduce MIA’s #1 fan – her eternally optimistic, gentle, funny 28 year old, autistic daughter Laurel (who stars in the book). That’s because Mia is promising a series of ON AN ANGLE books and one about Laurel is already in the works. I for one will be placing an advance order and eagerly telling you all about it.
In the 3 years I’ve been writing the Red Shoe Zone I have never used it to endorse a product. I’m making an exception here. I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of RUNNING ON AN ANGLE. It’s unforgettable.
You can find out more about Mia, Laurel and RUNNING ON AN ANGLE here.