Fitness and Figure champion Tanji Johnson has come a long way in a short time. I saw Tanji for the first time at the 2000 NPC Inland Pacific show in Spokane. That was just over a year ago. She took first in a field of one. That doesn't take away the fact that Tanji's fitness routine of gymnastics, dance, and power aerobics brought the hometown crowd to its feet. Her performance was the hightlight of the show.
In 2001 she crossed the mountains to compete in the Emerald Cup. Tanji took first in her height class in fitness and fourth in the figure divison. She had definetly made her mark in the Pacific Northwest.
Tanji's placings in the fall NPC season can be called nothing less than phenomonal. She won the Northwest Fitness Championships in Portland, two weeks later she grasped the fitness overall at the Washington Ironman and a short time later won the Washington State fitness championships.
In addition to the NPC shows Tanji competed in the Women's Tri-Fitness in Las Vegas and found time to fit in several photo sessions as well.
Talking with Tanji is always an uplifting experience. Brimming with determination, focus, faith in herself and God, her personality is infectious. She is quick to smile and even quicker to laugh. One cannot help but be impressed with her straight talk and her knowledge of her sport. It was my pleasure to catch up with Tanji shortly after her victory at the Washington State Championships.
Mark Mason: Tanji, congratulations on your three back-to-back fitness victories and your high placings in the figure competitions. From where I sat you looked great and had some high caliber competitors to contend with.
Tanji Johnson: Thanks, Mark. I love to compete and I am just so happy with the outcomes. I feel very blessed.
MM: How did you first hear about fitness competitions and what motivated you to compete?
TJ: When I graduated from college, I wanted to stay involved in competitive sports. I did a bodybuilding competition and was exposed to my first fitness contest. It was at that moment that I realized that my athletic backgrounds in dance, gymnastics and cheerleading could be further developed by competing in fitness. Plus, it allowed for an avenue of performance and entertainment, which I have always loved.
MM: What sports did you participate in during high school and college?
TJ: I was active in track and field, dance, and cheerleading. While I was at the Air Force Academy I was a member of the rifle drill team. The real secret to my physique is having to do precision drill with a 12 lb M1-Garand.
MM: What was the first title that you won and how long ago?
TJ: My first official title was the 2000 Ms. Fitness Texas for the Fitness America. I had gotten 2nd the year prior and was determined to return to Texas and win it!
MM: Do you have a mentor in your sport?
TJ: I do not have one particular mentor. I have been mentored and influenced by so many in this industry. But my source of strength comes from the Lord. My encouragement comes from family and friends and my ambition comes from self-determination. I would, however like to mention the coaches and trainers I've been honored to work with and benefit from; Dr. John Atherton of the AteamXtreme and Mike Davies of the Fitness Factory.
MM: Can you name three inspirations in your life?
TJ: I am most inspired by those that chose to follow the Lord; those that chose the more difficult path, yet stay true to themselves, and those with no self-pity but those that seek to make the difference against all odds.
MM: Tell us a little bit about your training and diet?
TJ: My training varies and is dependent on the contest I am preparing for. Training for Fitness America and NPC Fitness will differ from the way I train for the Women's Tri-Fitness competition. And it always changes because we all need to vary and spice up our program.
MM: Can you elaborate on that? What is the balance between weight training and your gymnastics and dance workouts?
TJ: The balance is one of understanding your body and its needs and desires. I work gymnastics once a week and teach dance twice a week in the off-season. I weight train 3 days a week to maintain my muscle shape during the off-season. Balance is very important. Your body will continue to become more flexible and dynamic if you challenge it in the way that it moves as well as the resistance you train with.
MM: How does your pre-contest diet compare with your off-season one?
TJ: My off-season diet is very balanced. I still eat frequent meals and get the balance of my protein, carbs, and fats but I eat more fruit, skim milk, cereals, wheat bread, and pastas. And I eat cheats on a moderate basis. The competition diet is very strategic and planned out according to weeks. The cheats diminish and the struggle begins. I've found is that the key to successful dieting is maintaining a healthy diet off-season so that the precontest diet doesn't have to start as soon or be as strict.
MM: I find your fitness routines very innovative. They have a beginning, middle and end but with a certain feeling of spontaneity. It is hard to explain. Do you work with a choreographer?
TJ: No, I do my own choreography. My routines are better when I can create my own image and do what is naturally in my personality. Plus, it's way too fun to let someone else do. But I accept criticism and feedback from everyone while developing my routine.
MM: What do you do for enjoyment and relaxation?
TJ: I enjoy the sun and being outdoors. I try to get acquainted with nature as much as possible. And to relax? I'm the type of gal that enjoys pampering herself to hot bubble baths with scented candles and aromatherapy in the air. Or a handsome man providing a nice body massage!
MM: What are your competitive goals in the near future?
TJ: I plan to get my Pro card with the IFBB. I plan to place in the Top 5 for Fitness America and win the Women's Tri-Fitness title.
(Editor's Note: She now has her pro card by winning the 2001 NPC National Fitness Championships!)
MM: What are your plans for the future?
TJ: I plan to open up a dance/fitness studio and empower women to get involved in "raising the level" in their fitness goals. I also plan to be a firefighter when I separate from the Air Force.
MM: What motivated you to join the air force?
TJ: Service, it's all about the service. It has to be, or your happiness will not be guaranteed.
MM: What are your thoughts about the new figure division?
TJ: It gives recognition to women who have spent time and hard work training and developing their physiques. But it may not get the respect of fitness because it lacks the display of athleticism in its rounds.
MM: With so many women flocking to the figure division the fitness competitors have been dwindling. What do you thing about future of fitness competition?
TJ: Fitness has a great future in our industry. It's contagious. Women love to look and feel great and often enjoy showcasing that achievement. As long as fitness stays "healthy" and "achievable", I believe it will continue to gain popularity. I can see fitness being in the Olympics someday.
MM: This fall you have taken the overall in every fitness contest you have entered and won either your height class or the overall the figure contests. Does your overwhelming success surprise you?
TJ: I am very thankful for the success that God has blessed me with this season. I am a "seasoned veteran" now so I can utilize confidence and experience at the regional shows. Winning is always a surprise if you come in with a humble heart and respect that talents that surrounds you. So, yes I am always surprised and grateful.
MM: You sure came on like gangbusters. What changes did you make in your training after the spring season?
TJ: The main difference in my training is training and dieting smarter, not necessarily harder. I focused on my weaknesses and researched what I've done wrong in the past. Learning from your mistakes and capitalizing on your strengths can take you a long way! And confidence is key! It is a powerful motivator if used properly.
MM: What advice do you have for people just beginning in fitness and figure competition?
TJ: Stay true to yourself. Pay attention. Ask lots of questions. Be passionate about what you do and love what you do. Find someone you respect and seek his or her knowledge and advice.
MM: Thank you Tanji, and best of luck at the Nationals in Atlanta.
TJ: Thank you, Mark, and God Bless.
Click here for the order form to get Tanji Johnson's "Art of Posing" DVD.