Blake Johnson, author of Surry Living’s “Blake’s Take” column, provides answers and insights on a variety of topics for readers who are facing difficult or conflicting situations. Johnson hopes to use his training and experiences to help others make informed decisions and to overcome adversity.
Johnson was born and raised near Winston-Salem, NC. Describing himself as outdoorsy, he loves physical activities. He began working out regularly during his high school years. In the late 2000s, Johnson competed in smaller triathlons before going on to compete in two half Ironman Triathlons and one full Ironman Triathlon.
In 2015, the columnist was working as an electrical contractor and living in East Bend. That year Johnson and his wife attended a conference in the Bahamas on behalf of State Electric Supply. After an attendee dinner, Johnson checked out the casino with friends. Around 9:30 p.m., he headed back to his room. He planned a shortcut to the hotel by hopping over a gate between the casino and the hotel room.
Instead of clearing the gate, Johnson hit it and ricocheted backward. A pain like a bolt of lightning went through his body, and he immediately knew he was severely injured. The area where he fell was dark. It was unlikely he’d be discovered any time soon.
“I lay there and kept getting shorter and shorter breath, and kind of making peace with God,” Johnson said. “I felt a real strong peace come over me.”
However, Johnson thought about his family and friends. “So I started fighting, you know, to breathe and to live,” he said.
Soon, a man found Johnson and called emergency services. Another person arrived and managed to get in touch with Johnson’s wife who rushed to the scene.
“She kept asking me to squeeze her hand,” he said. “I didn’t have any feeling in my hand.” Johnson knew then that the accident had paralyzed him.
When he woke up in the hospital, the doctors gave him two options: have surgery at the hospital in the Bahamas or be airlifted to North Carolina to have surgery there. Johnson and his wife found an airline rescue service that transported him back to North Carolina for the surgery. He remained in the hospital for nearly two weeks. He then spent his fortieth birthday in an ambulance from Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem to the Shepherd Center, a rehab facility in Atlanta, GA, where he stayed for six weeks.
Johnson spoke about the hardships of going through rehab and physical therapy. He found himself pretty much alone at Baptist Hospital and then in the rehab facility. His wife came on weekends, but she had to work and save her leave time.
When he completed rehab and returned home, there were challenges to adapt to his new lifestyle. Johnson was not able to raise his arms, so he learned to control his electric wheelchair using a straw held in his mouth. Continuous physical therapy eventually allowed him to regain limited movement in his arms.
After rehab, though, Johnson knew he needed to provide for his family. He changed his career path and went back to school. At Liberty University, Johnson earned an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree in psychology.
“Since then, I have been looking at going to work with what I have now or going back to school to receive a doctorate,” he said. Johnson wants to use his life experience to help others. “I’m not a licensed therapist or anything like that as of yet, but I do have some background in psychology and I want to use my experiences and that background to help people that are going through issues, whatever they are.”
While Johnson plans to help a variety of individuals on a professional basis, he started a nonprofit organization called the RBJ Unstoppable Fund to provide access to recreational and outdoor activities that are accessible to users with limited mobility.
His nonprofit has raised funds for a variety of equipment, such as an adaptable kayak with a raised backrest, adaptive paddle, and outriggers so users with limited mobility can move the kayak with ease. The fund also has access to an adaptive shooting system for users with limited hand and arm mobility. All equipment is available for use free of charge. RBJ Unstoppable is currently raising money for new equipment at rbjunstoppable.com.
In addition to studying to provide professional help to others and running his nonprofit, Johnson has returned to a hobby he had in high school—painting and creating art. He paints by holding a paintbrush in his mouth. Over the years, he has donated pieces of his art to charity organizations. Johnson is currently building up his portfolio of artwork and hopes to start selling prints soon. “I have come to enjoy it and find it is very therapeutic,” he said.
For now, Johnson is deciding whether to go back to school to earn a doctorate degree or apply his current knowledge and experience to begin working with others. In the meantime, he plans to use his Blake’s Take column to offer his insights on a variety of topics. “I just want to be able to be a voice to others that are going through tough times and try to make the best of the situation in the end,” he said.