As the administrative assistant for the Department of Philosophy, LoRease Johnson is responsible for keeping the nine-person department running smoothly. Between dealing with budget issues, organizing events and enrolling students, among other duties, she’s got a lot on her plate, but if anyone is used to some heavy lifting, it’s Johnson.

A certified personal trainer who works out six days a week, Johnson is a bikini and figure competitor at National Gym Association and Organization of Competition Bodies events. She earned her figure “pro card” in Coral Springs, Florida, in 2019 by winning in her class and can now compete as a pro, where first place finishes pay upwards of $10,000 – and she hopes to earn her pro card in bikini once the pandemic ends, too.

“What I like about competing is how it makes me feel strong, keeps me focused on my health and allows me to maintain movement and flexibility – not to mention, health is the fountain of youth,” says Johnson, who started competing in 2015 at age 46 after moving to Charleston from Maryland with her husband and three children. “It keeps you young and active.”

Johnson, who also plans to start competing this year in the outdoor CrossFit Games, trains every day except Sunday at her home gym or at one of three fitness clubs she belongs to, typically getting there before sunrise. She’s also been known to get in a midnight workout at Planet Fitness, which is open 24 hours.

“Depending on what I have going on in my life, I still have to get my workout in,” she says. “It’s like brushing your teeth.”

It also ensures she’ll shine in her bikini and figure competitions. The main difference between the two categories, Johnson explains, is in the posing and muscle display. Bikini judges are more interested in how competitors look from the back, while figure judges want to see more overall muscular development.

“But in both cases, it’s also about how you look, too: the suit, the tanning, the hair, the makeup, the jewelry, the heels,” she says. “So you always have that femininity.”

That’s been important to her family, too.

“They’ve been very supportive, but they have one request,” she says, letting out a hearty laugh: “‘Please don’t end up looking like a man!'”

Lucky for them, Johnson can strike a pose while striking a balance!