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July 16, 2012

It’s about More than Gymnastics

Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson explains why her retirement from her sport is part of God’s plan for her.

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After bringing home four medals (one gold, three silver) from the 2008 Olympics at the age of 16, Shawn Johnson thought her gymnastics career was over. But after two years away from the sport, a ski accident severely damaged her knee, and Johnson reconsidered.

“My first thought was about gymnastics,” she said. “I was worried I’d never be able to do it again, and I realized how much the sport still meant to me. I took that as a sign from God that I wasn’t done with gymnastics yet.”

Johnson trained diligently, working to earn a spot on the American team for the 2012 London Olympics. But on June 3, she announced her retirement. “My knee just couldn’t handle all I was doing to it,” she explained.

With her memoir Winning Balance: What I’ve Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams having been released June 5, we caught up with Johnson during her book tour about her walk with God along a challenging but blessed road.

How has your faith played into your pursuit of gymnastics?
Gymnastics is a career of many unknowns. We do a difficult and scary sport, and every day we’re risking our lives. The pressure can get overwhelming, and I knew I could either be at the mercy of myself and my own thoughts, or I could put everything in God’s hands.

Following your accident and recovery, where did you see God hands at work?
It was a struggle, physically and emotionally. Training was intense. A lot of it, especially in the gym, was just putting all the fears to him, saying a prayer before a skill or routine, and praying every day that I’m on the right path and making God proud. Many times I questioned why I came back and if I wanted to continue. But God showed me a new path or a new way every time. For instance, I didn’t make the Worlds team, but two weeks later, I was named captain of the Pan American team. I feel like that was God working his ways, giving me an opportunity I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

How did you know God was calling you to leave gymnastics?
It’s the best decision, the best change. I’m sure I surprised a lot of people, but it was something I felt in my gut. My body couldn’t take the strain, so it was time for something different.

That’s a dramatic change in direction. Why do you feel you were called on this journey?
I’ve learned that my gymnastics career is not about me. It’s about giving back, sharing everything, and taking advantage of the opportunities given to me to turn it around for others. My parents and my coach never raised me to believe winning was the ultimate goal—in gymnastics and in life. If God is using me to be an inspiration to others, then I should be spreading faith and love and helping people find a passion for something and grab those opportunities.

Why is it important as Christians that we be open to letting our dreams change?
It’s liberating! Every door opens for a reason. I’m actually busier than I’ve ever been, but happy.

So what is your next dream? Will you remain involved in gymnastics?
I’ll always be involved in some way. I’m looking forward to commentating and hosting some Olympic events in London. I’m going to go to college next fall, but I have a lot of plans, a lot of things I want to do. I want to help people do what they love. I want the opportunity to travel, meet all kinds of people, and hopefully have a hand in changing something.

What lessons of faith will you carry with you as you begin this next stage of life?
Be brave and embrace new things, be open to change. God is faithful.

Related Tags: Christian, gymnastics, Olympics, Shawn Johnson, sports

Comments

Shawn Johnson inspired lots of teenagers’ girls these days. I was shock to hear her retirement from her gymnastics career. I am truly sad and sorry. But after I read the article above, I praise the LORD; her faith brought her to walk through the tough times, and brings her to other new chapters of her life. May God bless this girl and He will continue use her as His instruments.

I well remember the first Olympics I ever watched, the 1972 Winter Games from Sapporo, and being enthralled by figure-skater Janet Lynn. It was a great surprise and pleasure to learn later on that she is a Christian. My favorite performer from the last Summer Games was Shawn, and now it appears that she is a believer, too. I'm eager to read her book.

Love your perspective Shawn! Many people take their whole life to get where you are - not the medals, but the heart! May God bless you!

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