Taycee Johnson is an inspiration to nearly everyone she meets. That includes young girls who see her cheering at Southern Utah University sporting events, the friends who helped keep her alive after a life-threatening accident and the family who was amazed by her positive attitude as she recovered from her injuries.
The 19-year-old Grantsville native has been through a lot over the last several months, but upon meeting Johnson, it’s hard to imagine that just last March she was life flighted to Intermountain Medical Center after a four-wheeling accident near Grantsville Reservoir.
“It was the last day of spring break before I went [back to college at SUU],” Johnson said. “Me and a few of my friends went four wheeling. My friend Kassidy Chamberlain and I were on one four wheeler, two other friends were on a four wheeler behind us, and another friend was on a motorcycle by us. The road started going uphill and it was supposed to go straight, but it just dropped down. I flew forward and [Kassidy] flew on top of me. I hit the front area of the rack with my face and was completely knocked out. From there on I don’t remember anything that happened.”
Although Johnson was unconscious, her friends have since told her what happened. Chamberlain held onto her, laid her on the ground and called 911. Johnson started convulsing, and another friend with them, Kaleb Ware, who had just been ordained with the Melchizedek priesthood from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave her a blessing.
“He gave me a blessing right there and I woke up,” Johnson said. “I just starting panicking; I was in shock. From there the ambulance, cops and my family came. I got life flighted to IMC. I fractured my skull and my nose got shoved back into my skull. It shattered my whole nose and punctured both of my sinuses. I tore all of my tear ducts and I had to get complete plastic surgery on the top of my face from my nose up. I have 19 plates in my face and I can’t feel the right side of my face anymore. My taste and smell is also completely not the same.”
Johnson’s mom, Sheri Johnson, credited Taycee’s friends for acting quickly in the first moments after the accident.
“They kept their heads,” Sheri said. “I truly believe that blessing is what saved her. I am so grateful for her good friends who were so attentive.”
Although Taycee had some serious recovery to do, she went back to school at SUU just two weeks later. She was not able to cheer, but she remained a member of the cheer squad.
“The first week after the accident I was just glad I was OK, but when I went back to school it was hard,” she said. “But then I thought about how close I was to getting killed. I could have died but I didn’t. That’s a miracle in itself to survive everything that happened. The doctors told me there’s a lot more that could have gone wrong. This whole accident was a wake up call. Life is so precious and you can’t take it for granted.”
Taycee said she now has the attitude that if she could survive the accident, she can get through anything.
“It was hard for a while, but I feel like being positive for me and my family is important,” she said. “Everyone around me comments on how much they look up to me because I’m a positive person, but having this happen to me tested how positive I am. It’s not something I’d want to go through again, but it really made me think about my life.”
Sheri said Taycee has handled everything extremely well.
“From the beginning she was never concerned about herself,” Sheri said. “When I first got to the emergency room and she came to, the first thing she asked me was not how she looked or if she was OK. She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, tell me the truth. Is Kassidy OK?’ That made me really proud of her. Through all this hardship she has just had a positive attitude and thanked everyone who came to see her. From my perspective, what we’ve learned is that faith, family and friends are what it’s all about in life.”
Taycee was cleared by her doctor May 1, which allowed her to basically go back to normal life. The one thing she missed the most — cheering — was finally on the table again.
“I went down to Cedar on May 2 and went to cheer practice, because right then and there I was ready to do it,” she said. “After my accident it was the one thing I missed the most. I had to go sit and just watch everyone when I went back to school [in March].”
Taycee said she is feeling pretty good — besides the occasional headache — and she’s even starting to regain some feeling on the right side of her face. She’s lost a few pounds because food doesn’t taste or smell the way it used to, but she’s started to find new things she likes to eat.
“A lot of food that I do love doesn’t taste the same and it got frustrating for a while,” she said. “The first time I started eating something I loved I cried because I couldn’t taste it. It’s been hard but I’ve learned to live with it because I’m alive. If the worst thing that is going to happen to me is I can’t taste or smell, I will live with it. I eat for texture now. I’ve found that crunchy and spicy things are good, and I’ve always been addicted to Dr. Pepper, so it doesn’t stop me from drinking that.”
For Taycee, being able to go back to cheer was a major motivator for her to heal. It was hard for her to sit on the sidelines for a couple of months and watch her fellow cheerleaders, especially when it came to tryouts for next school year.
“I was really frustrated when the doctor said I couldn’t [go to tryouts], but I talked to my coach and she told me I could come to tryouts and help and I’d have a spot on the team next year,” she said. “Since she was letting me come on without trying out, I knew I needed to be careful [while I healed]. Once I got cleared, I came to practice and worked hard. Cheer has been one of the biggest motivators in this accident. Without cheer I wouldn’t be the person I am.”
Taycee, who has been dancing and cheerleading since she was a child, said in a small town like Grantsville, “being a cheerleader at football games is fun because you get so many girls looking up to you.” Over the year’s she’s had several young girls ask to get their picture taken with her, but now, it’s even more special.
“Now that I’ve gone through this, when people come to me and say that I’m an inspiration to them and help them, it helps me a lot,” she said. “Having that support from other people and little girls that look up to me has been my number one motivation.”
Taycee is also a staff member of the National Cheerleaders Association, an organization founded in 1948 in Texas that holds cheer camps with the purpose of bringing cheerleaders together to learn new skills under qualified instructors. When she submitted a video of her cheering to apply for a staff position, she wasn’t sure she’d qualify, but just a week after her accident, she received a letter saying she’d made it.
“That was pretty cool because I didn’t know if I was going to make it and after the accident it was kind of a cool thing to get,” she said.
So far this summer, Taycee has participated in several cheer camps in Idaho and Utah. Recently, she won an award for best female stunter — which was quite the feat for someone who was just cleared to cheer in May.
“It was really cool,” she said. “I got a certificate for it. I love being really inspirational to those who look at me. I love being positive and helping other people be positive, especially when it comes to cheer.”
In the future, Taycee hopes to continue cheering at both SUU and with the NCA. She isn’t sure yet what she’d like to get her degree in, but she plans on finishing college at SUU.
“I’ve always loved motivating people, and since my accident I’ve thought about becoming a motivational speaker, because it’s cool to know that people look up to you and want to be like you,” she said. “I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Taycee said overall, she couldn’t have made it through her accident without her family, friends, the people of Grantsville and her Heavenly Father.
“Taycee has been so blessed,” Sheri said. “We can never forget that day or the blessings we received from it. I have always called Taycee my ‘little bonus’ in life, and she really is.”
Taycee said it’s important for people who go through similar hardships to remain positive-no matter what life throws their way.
“Your face could be completely broken or you could lose your leg, but don’t pull the ‘why me?’ card,” she said. “Think of the positive side of an accident. I’ve caught myself thinking about my face and the scars I have and it’s brought me down, but then I just think about being alive and being able to move. Take it one day at a time, have faith that everything will be OK, and remember that life is precious.”