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Olympian, Mom, and Lifestyle Creator Shawn Johnson Shares What She’s Learned

She has some winning tips for parenting and staying positive.

Shawn Johnson has been famous for nearly half her life. She first burst onto the scene as a teenager, when she was a member of the silver medal-winning US gymnastics team at the 2008 Summer Olympics. She also won individual medals, including gold for her impressive performance on the balance beam. Johnson’s positive energy and athletic prowess has earned her many fans, and she competed on Dancing With the Stars twice, winning first place in 2009. 

Since retiring from gymnastics in 2012, 30-year-old Johnson has remained in the spotlight with TV appearances, books, and advertising campaigns — including her latest, a fall-themed partnership with Crest dedicated to making sure children brush their teeth as Halloween approaches and cavity-causing candy is being consumed en masse. Johnson’s bright, friendly smile is her signature feature, which makes her a natural fit for the campaign, and she also calls herself “a total cliché” when it comes to her affection for the current fall season. “I love all of it. I love fires, the falling leaves, the changing colors, the temperature, the decor,” she tells First for Women. Here, she takes the time to share some wisdom and tips with us about motherhood, staying active, and more. 

Lead by example to raise healthy kids.

Johnson and her husband, retired football player Andrew East, have a one-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, and they maintain a consistent social media presence showcasing their charming family antics. As athletes, the pair is uniquely equipped to model an active lifestyle for their kids — but Johnson recognizes this can sometimes be a challenge. “The greatest thing you could ever do for your kids is show them by example, which is hard for a lot of parents,” she acknowledges. “If you’re not naturally active, it makes it more difficult. But spending time outside, showing them that you’re working out, showing them that you’re eating healthy are all important [things].” 

She continues, “Kids want to be their parents. If you’re constantly on your phone or watching TV or sitting on the couch, that’s what your kid will want to do. It’s really hard when you have parents who are like ‘Go play outside,’ yet they’re sitting inside not doing the same thing.” When it comes to the Johnson-East family, she shares of their set-up: “We have a garage gym, nothing special, but whenever we go work out, our kids will want to go with us and they’ll play outside and do activities.”

Make space for self-care. 

Taking time for yourself can be difficult, especially if you have constant work and family obligations — but Johnson is always intentional with self-care. “My husband and I are both very aware that to be the best we can as parents and spouses, we need probably four hours per week per person — like an hour a day four days a week — to be able to work out or have time to ourselves,” she says. “We truly try to respect each other and support each other through that. My husband will take the kids for an hour and I can go get my nails done or go to the spa. We try to balance each other and give each other that freedom.”

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

As an Olympian, Johnson was exposed to extreme performance pressure from a very young age. She retired from gymnastics at age 20 following a knee injury, telling the Associated Press, “my body is to the point where I need time to rest and retire so I can be healthy for the rest of my life. It’s hard to wrap my mind around. Gymnastics has been my entire life, and now it’s no more.” While she hasn’t done gymnastics competitively since, Johnson’s athleticism remains incredible, as proven in a recent video shared by her husband of her pulling off a backflip.

Reflecting on her days in the Olympics, Johnson notes, “people tend to think that the subjective opinion of other people is truly what defines them as a human being. Separating that outside of competition can be really difficult. That was something I struggled with for a long time. When I left the Olympics and had succeeded, I had put my entire identity and value in those judges’ opinions. I think I learned the hard way, but it’s also a beautiful lesson: You can try your best and that’s all that matters, and people’s opinions are just something else on top of that. It never changes who you are as a human being. You have to keep yourself grounded pretty strongly in who you are. Otherwise it’s a breeding ground for bad thoughts and spiraling.”

Now, as a mother, Johnson has experienced a whole new kind of pressure — not only to raise her children properly, but to lose the baby weight, as women in the public eye are so often expected to do quickly. “I think being a mom in general gives you so much strength and you just never stop moving,” she says. “When I started getting rid of that mentality of ‘I need to drop the weight and get back in shape’ and I let myself live, things came back faster since I wasn’t so worried about it. Be active with your kids. Go on walks, take them out, go to the mall, go do things. In just being active that way, a lot of things happen on their own.”

Keep in touch with old friends.

Johnson remains close with many of her former competitors from Dancing With the Stars. She was the youngest competitor on the show at the time, and won first place over actor Gilles Marini by less than one percent of viewers’ votes; many viewers were surprised at how well her athleticism translated to dance.  “I was really lucky on both of my seasons. [Johnson competed in season eight in 2009 and came back for the season 15 all-star edition in 2012.] Because I was so young when I competed, people didn’t see me as a threat. I was like their little sister,” she explains. “A lot of them were invited to our wedding. And I was just texting with [Jackass stunt performer and fellow season eight DWTS competitor] Steve-O, he’s one of my favorite humans on the face of the earth.” Johnson’s girl-next-store vibe and Steve-O’s chaotic daredevil antics may seem like they’d make for an odd pairing, but it turns out the two are pals — in 2009, Steve-O even presented her with the Young Hollywood Award for Best Athlete. “She’s a good friend of mine, and the way she supported me and the rest of her competitors on Dancing With the Stars showed so much class,” he said at the time.

Looking back on her time in the Olympics, Johnson admits that “it’s one of those things where it seems like a hundred years ago and it also seems like yesterday.” She’s still close with her former teammates, too, and has posted playful videos in collaboration with gold medalist Nastia Liukin. “My Olympic teammates are truly like my sisters,” she says effusively. “They’re my best friends. We can go a while without talking, but as soon as we’re in the same room we’re inseparable and have never skipped a beat. We got to experience something together that bonds us to the soul. We actually all took a vacation last year that was amazing, and we’re due for another one.”

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