Earlier this week The Washington Post profiled Bryant Johnson, a records manager by day and personal trainer to two very powerful women in the evenings. The Virginia native trains Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her colleague Justice Elena Kagan in the Supreme Court’s ground-floor gym.
Johnson grew up on his grandparents’ farm on the Northern Neck of Virginia. He was raised largely by his mother, a deaf grandmother and many aunts. Growing up closely with the strong women in his life is perhaps what helps him feel comfortable pushing the justices to do just one more push up.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)
By day, Johnson is a records manager in the clerk’s office of the District’s federal court, curating obscure files and trying to avoid paper cuts. In the evening, he drives up the hill — Capitol Hill — to do squats with Ginsburg or take punches from her colleague, Justice Elena Kagan, in the Supreme Court’s ground-floor gym.
The judges, clerks and U.S. marshals who lift and stretch with Johnson may know the law; Johnson, 48, who spent years jumping out of airplanes for the military, knows fitness. But it could be any of a range of professions serving this city’s elite: Johnson is part of the army of Washingtonians in everyday jobs whose lives cross paths with extraordinary power. In his case, that intersection occurs with two of the most influential legal minds in the world.
“Exercise is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what size, shape or color you are,” Johnson told the Post. “A push-up is a push-up, no matter how you look at it.”
“You are with this person when they are most vulnerable,” Johnson said. “They show you their weakness, but the point is not to make them feel weak. Your job is to build them up.”
And 80-year-old Justice Ginsburg knows a thing or two about that.
“When I started, I looked like a survivor of Auschwitz,” Ginsburg said in an interview. “Now I’m up to 20 push-ups.”