Shawn Johnson has had us on the edge of our seats long before Dancing With The Stars. Like most of America, we were glued to our TVs during the 2008 Beijing Olympics when she took home a gold and three silver medals. A ski injury shortly after, though, forced the bubbly gymnast into announcing an her early retirement. Johnson may have been sidelined from defending her title last summer in London, but this optimist has yet to lose that infectious grin or love for fitness.
Two seasons of DWTS as a Season 8 winner and All-Stars runner-up introduced the Olympian to a new type of exercise, sparking an interest in other athletic ventures and a healthy lifestyle revamp. Now, at 21-years old, Johnson is stronger than ever. We talked to her about transitioning into the new gymnastics-less phase of her life, going Paleo and body love. Here’s what we landed:
What is the hardest part about being an Olympic athlete?
For me, the hardest part changes all the time, looking back on it. I feel the hardest part of being an Olympic athlete is just the discipline, especially in gymnastics—we’re so young. We start training when we’re three years old. We start living in the gym 40 hours a week when we’re eight. Just kind of taking that whole normal childhood experience away and being an Olympic athlete—I mean it takes a lot of mental and physical power and being able to be 16 and stand on the Olympic podium and have the mental strength to handle that pressure. I don’t honestly even know how I did it back then because I feel like now I’m like, ‘I could never do that!’
Favorite Olympic moment—spill!
I would say outside of the competition, my favorite moment was in the Olympic Village. Everybody was lining up to walk through opening ceremonies—the gymnasts aren’t really allowed because we compete the next day—I saw towering over everybody was Yao Ming. I was starstruck, no joke. I ran from my team, who was headed back to their dorms. I wanted a picture so bad and I remember I literally was tapping on his thigh like looking up at him and he never paid attention. He probably thought I was a fly on him or something!
How has your workout changed since the Olympics and DWTS?
My workouts have changed drastically. I’m no longer in the gymnastics gym. Honestly, it’s kind of a big goal and new learning experience for me. I feel like as soon as gymnastics was over, I made it a point to not go back into the gym so I could learn how to do workouts and train and stay healthy outside of it. It’s kind of a therapeutic thing almost. It’s closure almost. But I work with one of the best trainers ever—she’s like my best friend—Jeanette Jenkins.
We saw you guys interacting on the Twittersphere!
I love her. I’m actually living with her at the moment and training with her all the time. I do a lot of cardio and kickboxing and Pilates and yoga, but having been in gymnastics for so long, you have to learn how to do everything differently, kind of transitioning into that whole fitness world.
Do you think you’ll give dancing another go in the future? You were so great in DWTS!
I absolutely love dancing and during the off-season, you kind of have a little more confidence in your ability. It’s a lot of fun! I don’t know if I’ll ever dance again. I’m getting ready to do the Teen Choice Awards and they’re going on tour and so I’m going to be doing some dancing for them on that, as well as hosting it, so I’ll be able to do a little bit there. Other than that, I doubt it. I’m not a professional so I don’t think I could dance without Derek or Mark.
A lot of people put your body out there as a topic of discussion. How do you deal with the haters out there?
It’s difficult, especially growing up in a sport that’s very critical. It’s already kind of embedded in me to be critical of myself. It has just been about relearning how to change that mentality. I know my trainer Jeanette works with me a lot on that—reinforcing that I am who I am for a reason. I honestly look at the red carpets and everything and I love my body. I love being strong and being able to go into a gym and challenge every guy that’s in there. I mean, it’s an empowering feeling! But getting that to be kind of universal is difficult because there’s a very stereotypical way people think you’re supposed to look and I’m definitely not that.
Any 2013 resolutions?
My resolutions for 2013 have everything to do with health and fitness. I wanted to break that mentality that we just talked about…I’m happy being who I am and living in a gym. Transitioning into a fitness world—getting out of the gymnastics world— and learning to lift weights and do the best fitness routine and share it with everybody. And yes, I’ve slipped up!
We heard you’re a big daredevil. Anything left on your to-do list?
Yes, a million things! I want to skydive really bad…Ever since I was a little girl, me and my dad said on my 21st birthday we would go skydiving together. I don’t think it’s going to happen actually on the day, but it’s going to happen soon. I’m excited for that one.
How are you fueling up for this new kind of a workout routine?
I’m kind of transitioning that lifestyle, as well. I know with gymnastics it was all about restrictions and now I’m kind of learning how to balance out my whole life. So I do the Paleo diet. I try to eat very clean, a lot of protein and vegetables, you know, healthy. Just healthy and clean!
So how does Nike+ Kinect Training work into your new routine and healthy lifestyle?
It works in perfectly. It’s fun! It’s a new transition into being able to go home at the end of the day and turn on, have your own personal trainer, especially when I can’t have Jeanette travel with me everywhere. It’s sort of a competition. You can compete with other people and yourself and there’s a bunch of fun little challenges and games where you can just dive under things. You don’t even know you’re working out, but I love it.
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