Like virtually any other young man, Terry Johnson’s life changed the day he learned he was going to be a dad. In 2004 when he was 21 years old and 315 pounds, his partner Ariele gave him the news that twin boys were on the way.

It wasn’t just the new responsibility and focus he needed that motivated him to make changes to his health, it was the knowledge that his weight and lack of fitness were already letting his kids down.

“That fire got lit,” Terry says, 15 years later. “I told myself, ‘Man, you can’t be a fat dad.’ You’ve got to be able to do the things you see in movies or the things that your dad did with you like teaching you how to catch or throw a ball or run a race.’ I wanted to give them an active parent.”

Now weighing 100 pounds less, Terry is a popular personal trainer at UFC GYM Germantown. Talking to him gives you a little insight into an incredible fitness journey that started slowly but that eventually led to a passion for fitness and kickboxing. He’s now a professional mixed martial arts fighter with a 2-2 fight record.

“I was that guy that needed a goal; the fight game gave me that,” Terry says. “As a personal trainer, I like people reaching their goals because I know how awesome that feeling is. I went from not ever liking to lift weights to now being able to deadlift almost 500 pounds and squatting heavier numbers than ever; I’m just having so much fun in the gym and want to share that.”

Terry, who moved to Memphis from California as a child in the ‘90s, recalls trying several gyms half-heartedly when he first got off the couch in 2005. Back then, he admits to having a poor diet based around fatty food and virtually no fitness regime whatsoever.

A friend invited him to a Muay Thai class at Memphis Judo & Jiu Jitsu. A broken ankle prevented him from participating, but as he watched, he fell in love with the sport.

Despite a frustrating search for his first amateur fight, he eventually got into the ring as a heavyweight in June 2015. He credits Will Whitlow at Memphis Judo & Jiu Jitsu and Joe “Babyface” Pass of Team Vortex/Team Pincer Athletics for helping him find and stick with the sport. Terry compiled a 2-3 amateur record before going pro in November 2017. His next fight is likely by April.

His twin 14-year-old sons, Terrell and Daniel, are now competing in a youth MMA league, while his youngest son Cayden, 6, loves everything about fighting. His daughter Rheagan, 11, is her father’s biggest fan.

“It’s really engulfed the family and did exactly what I thought would happen: it gave me something to give to the kids,” he says.

Reflecting on the last 14 years, Terry is convinced that had he not made the changes he did, Terrell and Daniel could have grown up without a father.

“The 20-year-old Terry… I don’t know how he made it to 20,” he says. “If I didn’t find out my wife was pregnant, if I didn’t have any of that going on, that dude wouldn’t be here. I had no sense of direction; I truly didn’t care about much.”

For those starting out on their own fitness journey, Terry has a simple piece of advice, “Just give it your best effort, at least once.”

“Once you give your best effort, you’ll know if you like it or not,” he says. “If you can’t give your best effort, or you come in with a clouded judgment or preconceived notion, it’s already something you don’t want to do. Come in with an open mind and give it a shot.”

By Ben Stanley

Photo by Tindall Stephens