U.S. Gymnast Shawn Johnson's Winning Balance
By Hannah Goodwyn
CBN.com Senior Producer
CBN.com - Olympian Shawn Johnson is most noted for her gold-winning gymnastic performance in the 2008 Beijing Games. What people may not know about this athlete – and Dancing with the Stars champion – is that she leans on her family and Christian faith, a fact she delves into in her new book, Winning Balance.
CBN.com recently spoke with Johnson about her faith, her time in Beijing and why she isn’t on Team U.S.A. this summer.
The first words in your book are a verse, II Cor. 5:7 (“We live by believing and not by seeing.”). Why are these the first words in Winning Balance?
Shawn Johnson: It’s just been what I’ve relied back on…the people who have stayed true to me and my family, and the people who love me for who I am and not what I’ve accomplished, or what titles I’ve ranked up. It all comes back down to your faith, and your love, and the God who loves you.
You say this isn’t your autobiography. How would you describe it?
Shawn: More of a memoir, more of little tidbits. It’s in chronological order, but it’s taking you back to everything you’ve watched and you’ve seen, but giving it in my perspective, what I was thinking, what I went through. It’s the more intimate details of it and what people wouldn’t normally tell you on national television.
What did it feel like recalling some of the memories?
Shawn: It’s therapeutic, going back and reliving it and re-reading all of the journals and diaries, and seeing what I was feeling and what I was thinking when I was 15 years old. It was cool, but it was emotional. It was hard to bring that all back up and then put it on paper for millions to read and see. It was a risk; and it was scary, but I liked it.
What compelled you to be so transparent?
Shawn: I wanted to relate to people. I wanted people to know it’s not easy. I wanted them to know it’s not a glamorous story like NBC makes it out to be. I had hard times. I had trials and I was a normal 12-year-old like the other kids are. I think a lot of teenagers can read it and really see that I’m just like them.
The book says that you didn’t really go to church when you were a kid, but you felt God. How is that?
Shawn: Faith has always been a part of our family. My mom always prayed. We always prayed before we went to bed. I had, “Now I lay me down to sleep” around my room, painted, when I was really little. It’s always been there, but Sundays were always the one day I had off from practice. So my parents always wanted to keep me home and keep me as a family, so the church wasn’t always something we went to every Sunday morning.
But over the past few years, my faith has definitely grown enormously, just with all of the traveling I’ve done, with all of the kind of hardships I’ve had to go through with the comeback, and the retirement, and the knee, my family, everything. I’ve had to find a greater reason of why. Faith is always there. Especially when I travel by myself all of the time, it gives me someone to talk to and someone to be with, and just kind of a constant.
You’ve struggled and had to go through some difficult situations. What do you think the best thing is that you’ve learned through all of it?
Shawn: You’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for, and God made you a lot stronger than you believe. I feel like you can get through anything. It’s just about giving it to Him and keeping good people around you.
People remember you from 2008, but there was a long road leading up to it. Tell me a little bit about working with the team before going to Beijing, China for the Olympics.
Shawn: Working with the team before going to China was amazing. We were age-ranged 15 to 20, and we were like sisters. We were best friends. We were the only people we had at that time. We were living out of a dorm room in the middle of the Sam Houston National Forest, so we had nobody except for us. And we were machines. We were the team to beat, and we worked harder than I think anybody could imagine. But it was cool.
And the mentors and the coaches you had?
Shawn: My coaches were like second parents to me. They were the ones who traveled with me when my parents couldn’t. They taught me the same things my parents did. You know, it’s not about a score, it’s about having fun. It’s about doing your best, and being who you are, and not listening to what other people say.
That’s got to be hard with something as big as the Olympics, with everybody writing about you and the intensity of the games themselves.
Shawn: I saw it as, I just want to do my best and rely back on my faith. Looking at the people who live for nothing but a medal…it seems so small compared to finding a greater reason of why you’re there. It all became real to me when I couldn’t get the gold medal [for Best All-Around] anymore. I had to find that reason. And I feel like with my faith and God, I got something greater.
Competing in the London Games isn’t possible because of a previous injury. What happened?
Shawn: Two years ago, I took a bad fall on a ski slope, tore everything in my knee, and it was that that prompted my comeback. I saw getting back into my sport as a way to get me healthy again, both physically and mentally. The injury broke my spirit a little, and I needed something to inspire me. But I got back in, and realized I wanted to go for another Olympics. [The doctors] did a second surgery a year later after pushing it too hard in the comeback. Then it’s just been a constant battle and challenge ever since then. [It] came time for Olympic trials this year, and I just wasn’t ready. My knee wasn’t there. It was still giving me a hard time; and I thought it was better to bow out then and give another girl a shot at the title than go into it knowing I wasn’t going to make it and take that away from someone else.
Will you be at the Olympics in London?
Shawn: I’ll be there the entire time working and being a cheerleader for the girls as well.
Do you know the team well?
Shawn: I do. I’ve grown up with them. One of them is actually my teammate from home, and she trains with my same coach. [They’re] very close to my heart, all of these girls. It’s going to be hard watching.
Behind every committed young athlete there is usually a parent or two cheering them along the way. Tell me about your parents.
Shawn: My parents are my life. They’re like my world. They’ve supported me since day one. They’ve never pushed me. They’ve never told me this is what I had to do. If anything, they tried to get me out of it because they thought it was scary and not safe. They’ve been parents. They’ve been great parents. They’d never become coaches.
They’ve just been the comfort that I’ve always needed. They support me in everything, whether they believe it in it or not. They’ve always said, “Well this is what makes her happy. This is what she feels she needs to do, so we’re all the way behind her.”.
What are you going to do next?
Shawn: Not too sure. I’m going to try to go into the whole hosting/commentating world of entertainment. I’m starting out in London, and maybe that will be a launch into that. But I’m going to college. I want to take some time off and go get my degree, and be a college student for a while.
What are you going to be majoring in?
Shawn: I don’t know. I’m sure it’ll change a million times.
Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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