This year marks the 13th time Tanji Johnson will step onstage at the Olympia as a competitor, but it hasn’t gotten old.”The Olympia is the most prestigious compeition in the bodybuilding world, a chance to compete with the absoulte best. It’s always an honor to be there,” says Johnson, who has placed in the top five in the past nine Olympias.

Few pro women have the staying power of Johnson, who has been competing for 17 years. “I love the versatality of being a fitness competitor — being able to bodybuild, learn, gymnastics, dance, and train CrossFit.” Choreography and dance come naturally. and her routines are bursting with energy. “I love performing!”

Johnson grew up an Army brat, and attended the U.S. Air Force academy where she gained leadership discipline, confidence, and a hard work ehtic. “It was the best experience in learning how to thrive under stress while managing my time and energy,” she says — skills that have also served her well in the world of competitive fitness.

As she’s progressed, Johnson, who recently turned 40, has evolved from a focus on building muscle and honing her gymnastics skills to spending more time on functional training, hand balancing, and HIIT workouts to increase stamina. She includes plenty of recovery into her routine. “I get eight hours of sleep when I am training, plus I do hydrotherapy and chiropractic care once a week.” She also uses a foam roller every morning and stretches for 10 minutes after each cardio session.

About seven years ago, Johnson started coaching other competitors (she now has coached hundreds of athletes under her Save Fitness team) and promoted the first official NPC Tanji Johnson Classic this past June. “I developed a niche for teaching posing and built a coaching business around,” she says. “My years in the sport have put me in a position to motivate and guide others. I wanted to serve as a role model, showing that you don’t have to take drugs, get breast augmentation, give up your life, or lose your identity to be successful in this sport. You just have to be true to yourself and pursue your dreams!”