By Brenna Eller
Opinion Page Editor
From Scooby-Doo shorts and baggy t-shirts to a US leotard, Shawn Johnson East overcame her shyness and bullies at the age of 12 when she was handpicked to go to a 2004 international gymnastics event in Belgium. In 2008, at 16-years old she made her way to the Beijing Olympics. She was an Olympic gold medalist, “Dancing With the Stars” winner, and is now a YouTube sensation.
On Tuesday, Johnson was the speaker at the Dillon Lecture Series located in the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
Johnson has had several accomplishments in her life, the most well-known accomplishment being the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. She won the silver in the all-around competition and earned a gold medal for the balance beam.
Growing up, Johnson had a fairly normal childhood. She is from Des Moines, Iowa and like many kids, she just wanted to fit in. At the beginning of her speech, Johnson gave examples of bullies and challenges she faced growing up, including – girls not wanting her to join the “cool” group, wearing her favorite Scooby-Doo shorts and T-shirt, and having the first name “Shawn”.
Before her lecture, Johnson was asked about speaking in the Midwest rather than in a big city/state. She said, “I feel so much more relaxed and at home here, I love to speak in the Midwest.”
Another question asked was, “What advice would you like to leave high school and college students today?” She said, “This society makes it hard to have a passion in something without people assuming you will stick with that your whole life.”
She also explained how one might love to play the violin, but that doesn’t mean they have to become a musician.
She was also asked about President Trump, since she was on “Celebrity Apprentice”, her response was, “Aside from the politics, the man and family I met were very nice.”
In her speech, Johnson told about her experience at Beijing when she was representing the United States as the captain of her team for the first time as a 16-year old. She was signed by eight different companies for endorsements. She felt like everyone was expecting her to bring home gold medals. She ended up getting second in the All-Around and first 1st place in beam.
Nastia Liukin, who was also representing the US, and close friend of Shawn’s beat her in the All-Around.
“My heart absolutely shattered,” Johnson said.
She devoted her entire life to this moment and she didn’t get her gold medal. She got silver, and when approached by reporters, she assumed they would give congratulations, but instead was asked, “How does it feel to lose?”
At that point, Johnson had already felt angry so she snapped back with, “I didn’t lose, I won a silver medal for my country.”
When she won the gold for the beam, she thought she didn’t do her best.
“I didn’t deserve it,” she said.
She felt like the all-around was much better because she wanted it more. Her coach agreed with her and said, “Better next time.”
Another accomplishment Johnson is known for is winning the eighth season of “Dancing With the Stars” as a 17-year old in 2009. She shared that she wasn’t comfortable with the outfits at first and dancing with someone she didn’t know. Eventually she overcame her fears and ended up winning the competition.
Recently, Johnson was introduced to charity work. There is an organization called Hope Sports that provides athletes who have retired or quit an opportunity to help the less fortunate. Shawn went with a group of athletes to Tijuana, Mexico. They have built over 4,000 houses for people in need. She found the experience very rewarding and even met her husband through that organization. She also coaches, mentors, and raises money for other charities.
Her speech ended with some advice to high school and college students. She said, “Society puts so much pressure on us anymore.” She led into a rant about how people expect too much of young kids nowadays and how kids should just do what they love and not worry about making a career of it. They can love to draw, but that doesn’t mean they have to become an artist. Johnson also left students with the idea that sharing her life on social media is like “living in a fishbowl.” She also said to be smart on social media, because anyone can see what you post.
Johnson’s latest adventure has been documenting her life on YouTube. Recently she has shared her experience of finding out she was pregnant and her reactions to the doctor breaking the news that she was miscarrying. Although, saddening to Johnson and her husband, she wanted mothers in her position to know she understood and that they aren’t alone.