A Great Grandmother's Gift

Apr 27, 2014

Credit Tyler Johnston

Basketball shoes squeak on the polished wood floor, grunts emerge from the weight room, and tennis shoes pound a hypnotic rhythm on the belt of a treadmill. Many people have to force themselves to go to the gym, but here, Tyler Johnston finds peace.

Tyler is a personal trainer at the University of Oklahoma, and says the most important thing to him, is his clients.

"I've always been the person, I know a lot of trainers there they don’t want to be bothered in their personal time, that’s their time," he said. "But I’ve always made it apparent from day one if you need anything at 11 pm at night; you need anything at 6 AM because I want it to be about you not about me."

His dedication comes from a fear of failure.

"It’s almost embarrassing to fail," He said. "I do the same things in my work outs too, got to get through it, push through it because if you don’t everyone’s going to think you’re a failure so you got to put in 100 percent every day."

Tyler is 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds of muscle, and with his quiet but confident demeanor, you wouldn’t believe that he was ever considered “scrawny.” But as a child Johnston was small and many times, the butt of a joke.

"I grew up without parents and so they were never in my life and sometimes the kids at school, they didn’t really understand that." Johnston said. "So I was the kid that got picked on I guess, because I was a lot smaller than everyone in my grade and I graduated early so I was always like the smallest, or one of the smallest kids in my grade I guess."

But instead of getting down about being bullied, he persevered. Almost every weekend he would stay with his extended family and tossed a basketball or football with his spry, 70 year old great grandmother.

"She taught me a lot about work ethic and sticking things through," he said. "We used to put together 3,500 piece puzzles when I was at her house and we would get frustrated and I would quit and then she would tell me we couldn’t quit because we had to finish it and then we would frame them."

And as his great grandmother developed cancer, Tyler’s relationship with her stregthened. She moved in with him and his grandparents, and together, they sat on an old couch in the living room watching every single game during the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dismal first season. He said it was hard to watch her go through her battle with cancer.

"There were things that she liked to do I guess, when she was like, two years before she got sick she would walk around her house and go feed her birds and everything, and you notice those habits go downhill like she cant do them anymore," he said. "And I think that when I noticed she couldn’t do that anymore, it made me work so much harder because I felt like I needed to pick up where she couldn’t."

In the final days of his great grandmothers life, he spent hours with her in the hospital.

"The last conversation me and my great grandma ever had, we were watching a football game, I still remember the game, we were watching the hospice house and Oklahoma city. And we were talking about football and OU and all that stuff, and we were talking about grad school. And I was like dang I’m afraid that I’m not going to be able to make it through this; I’m frustrated right now. I had just gotten out of my stats class and it was killing me at the time. And I was upset, frustrated so I went over there and sat with her in the hospital for 4 hours, because everyone else would go home and I would stay there beside her until she went to sleep. I told her I was afraid that I wasn’t going to make it and she told me the same thing she told me when I decided to go back to school. That anything set my mind to I could do, because she’s never seen anyone do what I’ve done with how little I’ve had. And she told me that she was going to pass away soon and it was my time to do it now, she said I can’t hold it for you any longer, its my time to do it. That’s the conversation that plays in my head pretty much every day; it’s your time now so go do it."