Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson on Why She Places Her Identity in Christ
By Carlos Mejia, Contributing Writer
Shawn Johnson, a renowned Olympic gold medalist, spoke with “I am Second” about the obstacles and trials that came with the discipline of gymnastics.
Johnson revealed that at the 2008 Olympics, she felt the pressure of the world on her shoulders. Everyone expected her to be the next all-around Olympic gold medalist for gymnastics. However, Johnson came home with only one gold and was a runner-up to her teammate Nastia Lukin.
Johnson said that she returned home with intense feelings of failure.
“I had given 200% that day in competition and laid it down on the floor, but I felt like I had failed the world. I felt like since the world saw me as nothing else, then if I failed at being a gymnast I failed at being a human being,” she said.
Johnson’s identity was gymnastics. Despite her outward success, she found that the pressure to succeed was overtaking every area of her life.
At just 16 years old, Johnson was under the spotlight of the entire world. After her performance in Beijing, Johnson landed a spot on the show DANCING WITH THE STARS. However, as Johnson’s popularity began to rise, so made the online criticisms.
“[I was] reading all of these blogs and reading newspaper articles and seeing headlines of people criticizing my weight and my appearance and my personality and my character. And it affected me immensely,” Johnson said.
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Johnson began to train for 40 hours a week to return to the 2012 Olympic games in London.
“I was hitting probably my all-time low, I was spending probably over 40 hours a week training. I was constantly trying to lose weight, but it wasn’t happening. My parents wanted me to go see a psychologist or go see a doctor because they thought I was clinically depressed. I remember I was losing hair. I wasn’t able to sleep,” Johnson said.
Despite her declining health, Johnson said to herself that “if this is what will make the sponsors happy and my parents happy and my coach happy and the team and the USA National Team happy, and if this is what is right for everybody then this is what’s right for me. I can just push through it.”
However, Johnson credits God for intervening and showing her where her true identity should rest.
Johnson finally found peace one practice when she was preparing to practice a routine. She says that at that moment, she “felt like God was telling me, ‘You’ve been so distraught over this decision. And you’ve been putting yourself through all of this and your family through all of this. And you’ve been afraid of disappointing a lot of people and not been yourself, but it’s okay to follow your heart and to put it behind you.'”
Johnson chose to retire from competitive gymnastics a month before the 2012 Olympics.
Johnson reflected on her relationship with God and her career, saying, “God is the answer to everything, and Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross so that when I stood up there and I was given that gold medal, yes, it’s a monumental and amazing experience and wonderful thing. But it’s not the end all be all. Yes, I can work my whole life to become the CEO of a company or to make a certain amount of money or to win 12 more Olympic gold medals. But it’s not the purpose in life, and he will always be my greatest reward and my proudest reward.”
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