Gymnastic Gold: Interview with Shawn Johnson and Her Mom, Teri

At 16, Shawn Johnson won a U.S. Olympic gold medal for gymnastics. See what the gymnast and her mom say about life in the spotlight.
Teri Johnson and Shawn Johnson

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Shawn Johnson, 20, is a pro on many levels. In addition to winning gold and silver medals in gymnastics at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, Johnson was awarded the Mirror Ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars during season 8.

In early June, Shawn announced her official retirement from gymnastics competition due to serious injuries she sustained in a skiing accident. But in April, before deciding not to compete in future Olympics games, Shawn and her mom, Teri, visited New York City to help launch Procter & Gamble's "Thank You, Mom" campaign. (The campaign is helping the mothers of Olympics and Paralympics athletes' travel to London for this year's games.)

During their visit, Parents.com sat down for a heart-to-heart chat and discovered the secret behind Shawn's humility and winning smile.

Parents: Teri, Shawn discovered gymnastics at a very early age. How did you balance giving her a childhood and training her for the Olympics?

Teri: It was always important for Shawn to have balance and substance. I wanted her to do other things and be a person with many interests, such as music, writing, and art. In fact, Shawn is a great poet. When you isolate so much time for one thing, you need to have a fallback plan in the event that you need to go in another direction.

Shawn: My mom always encouraged me to volunteer at local shelters, try other sports, and join the yearbook committee. I was even the ball girl for the high school football team [laughs].

Parents: What goes into raising a humble Olympic champion like Shawn?

Teri: I taught her about right and wrong. I also encouraged her to gain her own insight, to be open to learning from a bad experience and then using that knowledge as power. You have to have a bad day to appreciate a good day.

Parents: Shawn, since you can't win every competition, what have you learned from your mom about losing?

Shawn: My mom taught me that is isn't about the placement. It's about enjoying what you're doing and always having fun.

What sacrifices have you made to get to this moment?

Shawn: I don't call them sacrifices. I call them exchanges. I've had to exchange a lot of family time, friend time, school time, and social time for gym time. I was never able to pull an all-nighter with my friends because I had to exchange those moments to be up early the next day for practice.

Parents: You had a pretty serious ski accident. How did you and your mom pull together as a team to help you climb back on top?

Shawn: I remember breaking down when I learned how bad my injury was. I had never had an injury before in my career, so having a setback was not on my radar. As I was falling to pieces, my mom put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Everything happens for a reason. This was supposed to happen." For some particular reason, that statement resonated with me. My mom is my rock.

Parents: What is the greatest lesson you learned on your journey to the top?

Shawn: During the 2008 Olympics, I took everything way too seriously. Today, I try to find balance between my sport, family, friends, and hobbies. I want to make sure I have other things because I'm realistic; this cannot last forever. I also understand that hard work does pay off, even though you sometimes ask yourself, Why am I doing this?

Parents: In addition to all the medals and accolades, what has the sport given to you?

Shawn: Gymnastics has made me strong. I feel like it broke me down to my lowest point, but at the same time, it has given me the greatest strength anyone could ask for.

Parents: Teri, what have you taught Shawn about life outside the spotlight and looking ahead to the future?

Teri: Being the best or winning is not the most important thing in the world. I think it all comes back to being a good person and being nice to everyone. When Shawn started to get media attention, I taught her that people will say things about you that are unkind. Don't let it be true. Instead, always be honest with yourself and do right by others.

Parents: What advice would you give to other parents who see Olympic potential in their children?

Teri: Let it be their dream and not yours!

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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