‘Getting Better Together’: Family’s mantra benefits health, relationships

by Stefanie Brazile

Being active together is essential to a local family who prioritizes walking, jogging and playing sports almost  daily.  

Karl and Krystal Johnson attended the University of Central Arkansas and have been exercising together for 19 years. “We’ve always been active in sports and intramural in college,” he said. 

As their family grew, they decided it was a great way to spend time together and burn off some stress. “First we want to try to stay healthy,” Krystal said. “Second, just to interact with our children because they’re involved in sports.”  The couple has helped coach their kids and are committed to helping them train.  The oldest son is Karl Junior (K.J) who is 12, then daughter Kylie who is 11 and a 1-year-old, Kaleb. 

The Johnson family exercises at Tucker Creek Walking/Bike Trail in Conway together several times a week. (Mike Kemp photo)

While some families say that having young children keeps them from exercising, the birth of Kaleb inspired them to increase their activity level. “One of the key reasons we started exercising again is because we had him,” Karl said. “And with our two older kids we’ve been able to get around, play basketball and sports, and we didn’t want to rob him of that opportunity of basically getting out there with his parents.” 

A networking engineer with Insight Enterprises by day, Karl has been known to lead his family up mountains on the weekend, with a baby strapped to his back.  This summer, the family climbed Pinnacle Mountain in Little Rock. But most of the time, they employ more conventional means of exercising with a young child. Krystal added, “Out here (Tucker Creek Walking/Bike  Trail) we use a jogger stroller which makes it convenient.”   

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to close, Karl noticed that their older kids were having more conflict than he had ever seen. “We said, let’s all get out and do something.  With the kids not having recess, this gives them a way to stretch their legs and a lot of time to let off energy and be out of the house.” 

The father of three continued, “Our kids have never been in any kind of trouble or fought with each other or anything like that, but I found just with them being stuck in the house they would get into it, they argue and fight all the time and I’m wondering what’s going on? But we found when we started getting out and they started seeing more stuff they were more relaxed. I’ve always found that a lot of times even before school we’ll have them go out and do a workout because it relieves some kind of energy so when they get to school, they can pay more attention and be more focused.” 

Krystal said they missed the team sports and games that were cancelled because of the virus and have been intentional about creating activities. 

“We had to come up with another way to exercise. Getting out here and climbing Pinnacle has been a substitute for not playing ballgames or intramural sports.” 

She works for the Department of Human Services and has advice for families who want to start being active. “The walking trail or even walking in your neighborhood.  We started in the neighborhoods.” Karl also recommends the Don Owen Sports Complex or the McGee Center which has a skate park. 

The need to remain strong was highlighted a year ago when his mother fell in her home and was there all night. “It was scary and we were worried,” he said. She came to stay with them during her rehab and they brought her to the  Tucker Creek  Walking  Trail to build endurance. “That was one of the things we used to decide when she was well enough to go home because we were walking this trail together and she was able to do a mile by herself.” 

The Johnson family has a saying that Karl repeats often:  Getting better together. “I can’t push my kids to get better if I’m just gonna sit around the house and watch basketball and games. If they’re gonna get better, we’re gonna get better as a family.”  

His eldest son enjoys exercising with his family instead of just being in team sports.  “It’s fun because we’re so closed-in with this new COVID,” K.J. said. “Also, in the mornings I like practicing basketball at Don Owen Sports Complex. I’m excited about going back to school because we’ve been out so long. Usually nobody’s really excited to go back but because nobody’s been there for so long, we’re really excited.” 

His sister also enjoys family time. “I like it because you never know when your family might pass away so it’s good spending time with them.”  While on the path, she and K.J. dribble basketballs because that’s their favorite sport. 

Because they are on the trail five or six days a week, they have become familiar with some of the people who live along the paved path, like Clara Baker. Ms. Baker said that when she hears balls bouncing, she knows that it’s the Johnsons and when she is outside, they wave to one another. The parents say that video games are very limited at home because the kids would rather be active. Krystal added, “Health is important and you want to live a healthy life so you’ve just got to exercise. “