Danny Johnson, Personal Trainer and Sweaty Betties Founder, On Rehabbing Herself After Being Told She Would Never Walk Again (VIDEO)

11/15/2013 10:11 am ET

At 22 years old, Danny Johnson was told that she might never walk again. But 10 years later, she has become a personal trainer, run a marathon, and built her own fitness empire, the Sweaty Betties. Johnson shared her story with host Nancy Redd on HuffPost Live.

After graduating from college, Johnson became an acrobat for Sea World in San Diego. "I had so much fun -- I was flying, I was swimming, and I was getting paid for it -- it was a blast!"

But a few months into her job, she woke up one morning with pain in her leg. "I was getting up to go to the bathroom and I basically just fell out of bed. And I was kind of shaking off my leg and I'm like 'oh, something's wrong.' And I went back to sleep and thought it would get better. And when I woke up again, it was just worse. And basically by the end of the night, I wasn't walking at all and I was in so much pain."

Johnson visited a local hospital where doctors diagnosed her with sciatica and sent her home with painkillers. But Johnson's pain did not subside, so she flew home to Las Vegas to see doctors there. "My mom took me to the hospital from the airport and I didn't leave for a month."

"And while I was there, I found out that I had got E.coli, which was actually from the water in the bay where I was working," she explained. "It wasn't in a pool that was chlorinated or anything -- we were actually in Mission Bay. So that water is very near Tijuana. It's very polluted, there's a lot of bacteria in there, and I got a bacterial infection that got into my bloodstream and it almost killed me."

Despite the severity of her disease, Johnson was determined to go back to work. "What I was most concerned about was missing the shows and they were going to have to replace me. And I was so concerned about my job that I remember calling my boss and saying, 'I'll be back on Saturday.'"

"And the doctor came back and said, 'you're not going back Saturday and you're probably never going back again.' And I just looked with tears in my eyes and I just thought 'no way, you guys are wrong. This is not happening,'" she continued.

"I was so upset about that diagnosis I actually had the thought of, 'if I can't go back and do this, then I really wish that it had killed me. I wish that I had died instead.' Because I loved so much what I was doing, and I was so wrapped up in the physicality and my identity as an acrobat, as a performer and as a just a very physical person, that I thought, 'if I can't do this anymore, then I wish that I had just been killed.'

Johnson refused to let her diagnosis limit her. When she left the hospital, she could barely walk. She didn't have health insurance and therefore couldn't afford physical therapy, so she decided to rehab her legs on her own. "I started going to the gym, because I still had my gym membership. And I had my mom drive me to the gym, drop me off for a couple of hours, and I would just spend time, like, taking my hands and pushing my knees around on a bike and making my legs move."

She also looked online for advice on rehabilitating her legs, and ultimate decided to become a trainer. "Because I was spending so much time in the gym and doing all the research, I figured I might as well get certified. And I became a certified trainer even though I wasn't quite training yet."

That certification became the foundation on which Johnson built her fitness empire. She started Sweaty Betties as a way to make working out fun. "I started to think back, 'what got me into fitness in the first place?' And it was me trying to feel better and get stronger, and it was fun and I enjoyed it. And so I thought, 'I just need to make this fun again.' It needs to be about fun, it doesn't need to be about how I look. And so Sweaty Betties kind of came from that."

"The Sweaty Betties is a community of women, and I want everyone to be lifted up and to be able to share our stories, like the story I have of walking. I think we all need to share the stories of struggles we go through and help each other because I feel like we're given those struggles to help other people through their stuff."

CONVERSATIONS