ONE ON ONE: Shawn Johnson

We’ve watched her grow up.  It seems like yesterday Iowans were learning about the gymnastics phenom in West Des Moines.  Then suddenly the whole world was watching her compete – and win gold – in the 2008 Olympics.  It’s hard to believe Shawn Johnson is twenty years old, retiring and releasing a book. 

I had the chance to sit down with her today to talk about everything from those issues, to college choices and cute shoes.  In fact, her first comment to me was “I love your shoes!”  A girl after my own heart.

After we covered the important stuff like footwear, I asked Shawn about our “Workout of the Week” shoot with her.  That was seven weeks ago, exactly.  Sonya and I asked about the Olympics and her knee.  Like the pro that she is, Shawn answered without really answering.  “I’m taking it one day at a time and hoping that the knee and the body hold up,” she said.  It was the truth.  Today she told me, “I honestly wasn’t thinking retirement then.  I was struggling with me knee as I have for the past two years, but I still had time.  Now I’m out of time.  The reality is, Nationals is this weekend and I’m not ready.”

Shawn’s been competing long enough to know when she’s ready and when she isn’t – and she’s not about to turn in a sub-par performance.  “I’m kind of a perfectionist,” she says with a grin, “knowing I’d competed, but not at the top of my level really would’ve bugged me.”

She’s been showing up at Chow’s every day at 2:30pm for most of her life.  I asked her what she’ll do at two-thirty now.  “I have no idea!  I don’t know what to do with myself right now.  I want to relax, but I don’t know how.  I’ve never really relaxed before!”

For now, Shawn’s promoting her book “Winning Balance:  What I’ve learned so far about love, faith and living your dreams”.  She says there aren’t any huge surprises in the book, but there is a lot of insight into what she was feeling and what it took to win four medals in 2008.  “There are details that at the time I wouldn’t share because it would’ve been showing weakness and emotion.  The book includes a lot of my journals and poetry and a lot of vulnerability that I never let show before.”

One thing she never revealed before is her struggle with body image – both while competing, and after gaining weight when she wasn’t.  She says the reason she decided to talk about it now is because there are so many girls dealing with the same issues.  “To see that they’re getting this image that they have to be perfect and just like the person on TV – it breaks my heart because I’ve been there.  I want them to know that it’s OK to be different.  We’re all made with different bodies and different figures and different talents and passions.  I believe we’re made that way for a reason and you need to embrace it and love it and be OK in your own skin.”

Shawn doesn’t know what she’ll write about at 30 or 40, but she says right now she’s most looking forward to the London Olympics (she’ll be there with the team and likely do some commentating) and college.  She’s torn between Vanderbilt and Stanford and hopes to make a decision soon.

She’s had the chance to meet countless celebrities and says Ellen DeGeneres is her favorite.  “I LOVE her!  She’s a sweetheart – the coolest person ever.”  As for the one person she wants to meet, but hasn’t?  “Lance Armstrong.  He’s an athlete I’ve idolized and looked up to and followed.  It would be an honor to shake hands with him.”

 It was an honor for me to talk to Shawn today.  She’s no longer the little girl we watched so intently years ago … she’s better.  A lovely young woman with a bright future who is a wonderful role model.

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