Gold-medal inspiration from a pro
Shawn Johnson has accomplished more in her 23 years than most have accomplished in a lifetime, but don’t think that the 2008 Olympic gymnast will now rest easy on her gold medals. Quite the opposite.
She’s since won the ABC competition “Dancing with the Stars”, came in second place on the show’s All Star competition, won an ESPY for “Best Female U.S. Olympian” and Teen Choice Awards. She also penned “Winning Balance: What I’ve Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams (Tyndale Momentum, 2013). Johnson retired from gymnastics in 2012, but is now dedicated to improving the health of confidence of other girls with her website, The Body Department (thebodydepartment.com).
“Growing up in gymnastics, along with ice skating and dancing and cheerleading, I grew up around the stereotypical stories you hear about eating disorders,” Johnson says. “I was fortunate not to fall into anything, but I also have had my mental lows, and critiques from judges and coaches that made me insecure about my body. I hate what society preaches to girls and I feel like there’s no safe zone.”
When Johnson performed on, and ultimately won “Dancing with the Stars”, not all viewer feedback was positive. “I was only 16 years old and, of course I wasn’t in the shape I was in a year earlier, training 45 hours a week,” she says. “I’m thinking that I’m still getting older and growing, but it did get to me.”
Johnson explains that, as an athlete, it’s hard because the image that the fans see of you is ingrained in their minds as the only acceptable way to look. “So a few years down the road when they see you on the street, you don’t look like that 3 percent body fat professional athlete, and you’re a normal person, then that’s when the judgment and critiques comes in. Professional athletes strive to please people and please ourselves and be proud, and when that’s taken away by society, it’s really difficult to find a balance. I’ve heard a lot of stories that it takes like 10 years after you retire from your sport to finally find a new niche for yourself.”
Johnson is working on her niche with The Body Department, what she calls a safe zone for any girl of any age to learn about health, fitness, body and beauty.
“We believe that everybody’s on a journey, but nobody is on a diet and trying to be skinny, they’re trying to be healthy,” she says. “I’m just trying to take the negative association to be healthy and fit away, so girls can just enjoy themselves and have fun, and not have to worry about being that stick figure model on a runway carpet.”
Johnson’s athletic prowess was recognized at an early age. “When I was training, I never really thought that I had what it took to be an Olympian or be on the national team,” she says. “I genuinely just loved the sport and wanted to go to practice every day, but my coach saw something and really believed in me, so he filmed my practices, and sent it to Márta Károlyi.”
Her career includes a gold medal from the 2008 Olympic balance beam competition and a silver medal for all-around and floor exercise silver medalist. She was also the 2007 World Champion on floor exercise. She does say that her time on “Dancing with the Stars” was almost as tough as her Olympic training. “Dancing was rigorous and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Johnson says. “But coming off of Olympic training, I don’t think there’s anything that will ever be able to compare to that again. You’re representing your country and trying to stay on a 4-inch beam in front of 50 million people, so it’s a little intimidating.”
However, Johnson says that the show preparation included 10-12 nonstop hours of training in a sport that was out of her comfort zone. “Not to mention you’re being filmed for every second of it,” she says.
Today, Johnson says that she just works at being a normal human being who doesn’t train 12 hours a day. “I do run a lot and love doing half marathons and Tough Mudders, but I’m also still nursing injuries from my sport and have to really be careful what I do.”
She’s also planning more, including a new book, working on television commentary again and is considering other projects. “I travel so much and I’m always on the go so my down time looks like me in my sweatpants at home with my puppy and just relaxing.”
Shawn Johnson is an inspiration to other gymnasts, athletes and other young girls. She also makes sure that The Body Department inspires as well with Fitspirations and Fitstagram Fridays. “On the website, there are recipes, workouts, motivational quotes and stories,” she says. “We’re posting personal stuff and just trying to show people that we’re human as well.”
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