Athlete Feature: Megan Vetsch Johnson

It’s been a hectic couple of months as we moved into our new home and tackled the 2016 Granite Games. Now that things are calming down, we’re pumped to get back to featuring you, our awesome members.

Our latest member in the spotlight is Megan Vetsch Johnson! Megan has been with the Factory for a few years. In that time, she’s rediscovered her competitive drive, discovered the power of community and even came back stronger from a posterior chain injury. We think that’s pretty awesome!

Looking back now, can you recall how you got started at the Factory?

I can’t even really remember what exactly got me through the door. I knew I had my wedding coming up in about 6 months. I wasn’t really one who was like, “Oh I have to look perfect for my wedding,” but I just thought it was kind of a good kick in the pants to get me going. I think I saw a Facebook ad for boot camp; I had been looking into other CrossFit gyms, but I think Fast Factory had the most complete picture of what you were getting into, if that makes sense.

So, I signed up for the boot camp (when it was still called boot camp) at our old location. Once I signed up, I think I posted on Facebook, “I guess I’m gonna do this!” And then I realized my sister-in-law and her husband were members of the gym. I had no idea beforehand they were doing that, and they reached out and said, “You’re going to love it!” So, I went in knowing a couple people, even though I didn’t know anyone in the boot camp group I was with. Still, it didn’t matter. The second that we started boot camp, the competitive bone in my body kicked in, so it was just really fun. It was a great way to meet other people, and that’s what got me to stick around.

Awesome! So you found that competitive drive in yourself again.

Yeah, for sure. I was a swimmer for most of my life. I swam from the time I was 7 right up to college, and then I wasn’t sure I was going to swim in college. So I kinda thought, “Oh I guess now I have to do what every other adult does and run on a treadmill or do Pilates or something.” You know? That’s just what people do. And I DON’T like running. So it was just like, that routine never fit for me, and I wound up feeling a bit stuck. I did find yoga between college and now, so I had a pretty extensive yoga background for 3-4 years, but even though you go to yoga classes and you’re in a group—and I loved it, I still love yoga—it’s a very solitary practice. For me, I was missing that piece of being on a team, having that push and companionship. And I definitely get that now, through Fast Factory.

Speaking of competitive, you took on Friday Night Lights this past spring, right?

Yes, I did. It was super fun. I had no idea when I joined that almost a year later I would be doing that! I think I joined right after FNL last year and didn’t quite understand what it was. Everyone was so excited right after the culmination of it all, and I was like, “What just happened here? I don’t really understand.” But once I was in it, and feeling the anticipation of the nerves and that first WOD, it was just awesome. It was so fun to have all of that extra encouragement from the crowd; it reminded me of being at a swim meet, of the anticipation that fuels your adrenaline, pushing yourself to do your very best because it’s in front of other people. Like, you really can’t slack off! Friday Night Lights really pushed me to complete all the reps, to not stop and really push through, whereas if I were in a class, I might not do the same thing. To see everyone be so supportive and united was so very cool. And, you can invite people. My family had no idea what CrossFit was, so I was able to show them a bit behind the curtain, like this is what I do 3 times a week. They were like, “You’re crazy.” Haha!

Crazy in a good way! Shifting gears a bit, I know you’ve been working to rebuild your posterior chain recently. How has that been going?

Yeah, I started a part-time job a few months ago, and it’s much more being on my feet than what I’m accustomed to. I work at a brewery. After the first few weeks of working there—I probably wasn’t wearing the right shoes, I don’t know—but I had some tweaks in my hips. Squatting hurt; I knew something wasn’t quite right. So I went in and started some physical therapy. I’ve always kind of known my squats are one of my weaker movements, and on top of that I’m super flexible. I can get down really far, but I could never get back up. That to me has always been a weakness, but once it started to hurt, I was like “Ok, I really need to take a step back, break it down and start over.” So that’s what happened in a nutshell.

Even now, I’m still in the middle of the work to rebuild my posterior chain and movement patterns. It doesn’t hurt anymore, which I’m grateful for. I’m so much more mindful now when it comes to activation and I’ve learned to let the Coaches know if I feel I need to scale anything. They’ve just been super helpful once they found out what I was going through, helping me and giving me exercises I can do before class to warm up so I’m ready to go. I’m slowly building up to adding more strength; I’m doing Strength Class right now. That’s helping to fix some of those imbalances and get both of my legs to the same strength level. Also, I’m trying not to squat so deep and quite a few different things. Everyone has been really helpful in that regard. It has been a few months now and I feel a lot better!

It’s tough to imagine another place where you’d get that kind of guidance on what you can continue to do so you don’t have to just stop everything.

Yes! And I was surprised how much I went into physical therapy at Dr Granroth’s office realizing that I kind of already knew, because of our Coaches. I’m not saying they’re trained physical therapists, but I was surprised at how much of what they’d already suggested to me was what we ended up doing in physical therapy. I was like, “Wow, they really know the mechanics of the body and what’s going on.” So that was really cool.

So when you’re doing CrossFit now, are you just doing it for the maintenance? For the social aspect? What’s most important to you?

For me—I should mention I was also sick a few months ago, and kind of being sidelined from injury, I wasn’t able to make it in. And that was really hard on me from the aspect of managing my mental health. It was crazy to me, that not getting into the gym really took a toll on my anxiety levels. I realized how much I use my time at the gym as my—not escape exactly, but—time to focus on the task at hand, on what’s in front of me, and leave with that little endorphin boost feeling really clear-minded. I definitely missed that when I was sidelined by illness, and I could feel the anxiety in my body. That was something that just needed to be worked out, so going back has allowed me to be much more mindful that I get in 3 times a week or more. I know I need that.

But beyond that even, for me there’s the social aspect, too. I had no idea when I started boot camp how many friends I would make. I’ve never had that experience at another gym. It was always me working out by myself, or maybe going with my husband or sister; that’s the only contact I’d end up getting. Or at worst, at other gyms I’d find myself feeling really defensive of my personal space because I didn’t know anyone. I’ve had bad experiences of being harassed at globo gyms. I once had to report some drunk guys at the gym who were getting into a fight. The weirdest stuff would happen, and I can’t believe I kept going back—looking back, that’s what’s crazy to me about it. Now, it’s awesome to come to the gym, and even if I’m showing up for a different class time, between the Coaches and the members, there’s always someone I know. Everyone is just like, a friend. It’s awesome.

Or if you don’t know someone, you know them by the end of the workout.

Exactly. I’ve been trying to be really mindful of that because I remember when I started how nice the members were to me. When people come in and you can tell they’re in their first or second week, and still have that, “I don’t know what’s going on” look about them, it’s nice to pay that back, to give some helpful pointers, to just be friendly.

How has this place, this experience changed you?

I was asked if my perceptions of strength and beauty have changed since joining CrossFit. And in a lot of ways, they have for sure. I may be a little bit different from other people in that I grew up swimming and really idolized big shoulders and legs on women, because that made you a faster swimmer. That’s just what I grew up around, and when you’re in swimming, you see people’s bodies, there’s no escaping it. You’re just around the human form. So, my idea of what is strong for sure has changed.

Even with my friends at the gym, when we go through something like the challenge and are trying to get our nutrition under wraps, we all have different goals of what we want our bodies to be capable of—and how we want them to look. But I think that the focus being so much more on what you’re capable of in the gym has really changed the way I look at my body. I just want to be stronger. There’s this whole perception that women should be smaller, but the last year and a half, I found that I just want to be bigger, stronger. That’s the only thing I focus on, putting on muscle and weight. I don’t own a scale, so during the challenge, I put on a little bit of weight, but knowing that was muscle made me so excited! So yes, that’s something that’s definitely changed for me is the focus on strength and what you can DO. I want to improve and put up more weight and all of that. I don’t want to shrink by any means, because if I get smaller, I might not be able to do any of that. I think that’s something a lot of people come in wanting, to get smaller, but their perceptions end up changing.

Absolutely. So to wrap it up… We’ve talked about where you started and where you’ve been. But what’s up next for you?

One of my goals for this year… Well, when I first joined, my boot camp group did Murph in teams of 3 scaled. It was fun and felt fairly manageable, but I did a round and I thought, “Holy crap, this is difficult.” I remember looking around and seeing how much other people were in pain. This past spring, I did it again, this time with a partner, scaled. So next spring, I’m hoping to do it on my own, scaled (unless I miraculously get pull ups and can do a million of them!). But yeah, that’s one of my goals, to work up to taking on Murph on my own next Memorial Day. We’ll see, come May, what happens! It’s just sort of been hanging out in the back of my mind, that feeling of a kind of natural progression, from 3 to 2 to taking it on by myself… I think it makes sense, that it’s manageable. It’s one of those workouts that’s so crazy to watch; it’s hard for everyone! Even watching it at the CrossFit Games, when they did it in 2015, and then did it again this year. You realize it’s taxing for everyone and that you can make it as hard as you need it to be for your fitness level. I’m hoping strength class right now will help me prep for it!