STACEY’S MIGHTY COMEBACK
she’s ready to prove herstrengh
At the age of 15, Stacey Johnsen felt like her life was over. Her future as a competitive rower had been snatched away from her, and she found herself trapped in a wheelchair and battling depression as doctors told her she may never walk again.
But fast-forward 14 years and the bubbly blue-haired beauty from Invercargill is now a mum-of-three, plus a powerlifter with her own body-piercing business and a lifestyle blog. She also recently lost 68kg and is now competing on TheGreatKiwiBakeOff.
“I’m sure a lot of people are shocked at what I do,” laughs the 29-year-old. “I don’t look like your ordinary baker.”
But her journey to wellness has been far from easy. She’s faced countless operations and years of chronic pain after being born with a congenital dislocation of the hips known as “clicky hips”.
“When I was a teenager, I would run or even just walk and my hips would dislocate,” explains Stacey. “I had my first surgery the day after my 15th birthday. It took seven hours. They cut my pelvis in three places, rotated it and bolted
it in place, but during the surgery, I became critical. My lungs collapsed, I had blood clots and I was code blue – I practically died.”
Stacey was rushed into an urgent MRI, where they discovered her entire pelvis had shattered and collapsed.
“They took me back into surgery to fix it and the doctor said it was worse than any car accident he’d ever seen,” she continues. “They weren’t sure if I would walk again. There was a possibility I was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
“I had infection after infection. I had an open hip wound for a year and I had completely no feeling in my leg. I thought my world was over. I was hospitalised three times for attempted suicide.”
After almost a year in a wheelchair, Stacey was eventually able to walk again and she returned to school, but things were never the same.
“They put off doing surgery on my other hip because the first one went so badly, but the pain got worse and they put me on stronger medication. I was high as a kite on morphine all the time. In the end, my school said I was too much of a nuisance, so Mum
made the choice to pull me out.”
Things started looking up for Stacey when she began selling her own jewellery, which led to study in beauty therapy and eventually learning to do body piercing. “Now I can see there’s so much more to life,” she tells. “I’ve got a different attitude. If someone tells me no, I’ll try to prove them wrong.”
Despite doctors saying she would never be able work full-time, drive a manual car or have children, Stacey has done all of those things and is now mother to Oliver, eight, Madison, seven, and fouryear-old Lily-Mae.
“When I got pregnant with Oliver, they didn’t know if my hips would be able to carry him. My doctor booked a Caesarean and I cancelled it to attempt a natural birth. In the end, it resulted in an emergency C-section, but at least I tried!”
Life was back on track, but there was one thing that began to really trouble Stacey – her weight. She explains, “One side effect of my medication was that I felt hungry all the time. I’d have two healthy dinners, but I was still always starving. I couldn’t exercise much, then I had pregnancies and polycystic ovaries, and the weight just crept on.”
After 12 years of waiting, Stacey became too overweight for her second hip operation.
“I lived in chronic pain. I had to lose 50 kilos, so they suggested a gastric bypass, but because I had no other health problems, I was too healthy in their eyes!”
After a long battle, Stacey eventually secured funding and it was at this time that she started her blog My Disabled Journey to document her progress. Since having her gastric-sleeve surgery almost two years ago, she’s now lost over 68kg and gained over 2500 online followers.
“I wanted to show people that having the weight-loss surgery was not the easy way out,” she tells.
Just after turning 28, Stacey finally had her second hip operation, which went much better than the first. A few weeks later, while she was doing weights at the gym in a wheelchair, someone approached her about trying bodybuilding.
“I was so scared,” she recalls. “It was my first time ever in a bikini, with all my scars from my C-sections and surgeries, and my excess skin was my biggest worry.”
But 18 months on, she took out the title of Ms Southland Physique and has now started powerlifting, with her eyes set on qualifying for nationals next year.
“It’s cool to find something I’m good at again,” she smiles. “I used to love rowing every day and it was rough when I had to stop. Now I’ve found that passion again.” In fact, Stacey’s become so invested in her powerlifting, she’s postponed several more operations.
She explains, “I’m waiting
on a hip replacement on my left side now and I need the screws removed in my right one. But I’ve postponed both surgeries as they’d mean I’ll never be able to squat again.”
Though Stacey will face pain in her hips for the rest of her life, she refuses to let it stop her from being a good role model for her kids. “I want to prove to them that you can do what you want,” she smiles. “I’m showing that girls can be strong, muscular and bake cakes too!”
What a difference!! AfterAf years of health issues, Stacey changed her life and went on to win a bodybuilding title (above).
Kids (from left) Madison, Lily-Mae and Oliver love seeing their mum bake up a storm on the reality show.