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.