As clear in my 2013 Reading List my memoir kick is going strong. I just finished Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson’s Winning Balance: What I’ve Learned So Far About Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams.
For those of you who have read Meg Says over the past months, you’ve probably noticed a recurring theme: that I mention Olympians I admire, basically all the time. When I decided to start training seriously for my half marathon, what did I tell myself on those muggy morning runs? Would Michael Phelps slack off? Would Gabby Douglas give up a couple of miles in? No. Now, these little mantras didn’t boost me to any medal winning pedestals, but having people who make the sky the limit (“no limits”) in their aspirations and attempts to look up to along the way was a special encouragement when it was just me and the pavement. Shawn’s Olympic journey in Beijing in 2008 happened to fall during sorority recruitment at Florida State. (I kept thinking, are we really going to miss the Olympics? Apparently yes.) But my next door neighbor Jacki was just as into keeping up with gymnastics as I was, so after long exhausting days we’d gather in her room and catch up on everything we could. My memories of those summer Olympics are a lot blurrier than most of the others that involved non-stop watching of all the coverage either in my parents living room, or our own living room in the Senior Annex, or at a friend’s house in Inverness. With all that being said I enjoyed getting a recap of those days (and the ever-important journey that led to them) from Shawn’s perspective. I just texted my friend Kirsten last week saying, “I like my memoirs to have heart.” Shawn’s story is full of heart.
Obviously, the road to becoming an Olympic champion is a long one. Something I really enjoyed about this book was Shawn’s refreshing honesty about all the steps along the way. She gives us a peek into her childhood, and some anecdotes of growing up in the wonderful community of West Des Moines, Iowa. From the get-go readers will learn that her story is a bit different from some of those you read of other elite athletes. While she was fully committed to her sport, she also had an incredible balance in her life (hence the title.) Shawn’s parents instilled in her the values of keeping plugged into all areas of her life whether it be going to football games at school, dances, sleepovers, or just the habit of attending regular public school. We learn about Shawn’s friendships, and her “nerdy” love for math class. Another great aspect of her story is Shawn’s strong bond with her coach Liang Chow. Chow and his wife Li were incredibly encouraging and wise with Shawn’s training, and instrumental to her success. I thought it was really cool how important it was to Chow for his gymnasts to get to experience their childhoods, and not just be a slave to the gym.
Readers learn about Shawn’s experiences as she travels to her first elite competitions. As well as obstacles along the way that don’t keep her down! We get to learn about some of her fun experiences in the Olympic village, and what life was like afterwards. She describes her time in Hollywood as she joined the cast of Dancing with the Stars. We also learn about some unsettling events that came a long with that. Later she lets us in on an injury that rocked her career as a gymnast, and the path to recovery that followed. She’s honest about struggling with body image, and the joys of new romantic relationships.
Certain things were a constant throughout these experiences and transitions: Shawn has a rock solid relationship with her parents, and is grounded in her faith. Instead of just being a totally biographical story, each chapter addresses a life lesson Shawn learns. I loved how each chapter started off with a Bible verse, or an inspirational quote. (Shawn also includes several excerpts from her own collection of poetry throughout the book). Every step of the way Shawn acknowledge the support she has from her family, coaches, friends, and community. She seems endlessly grateful and appreciative of all the opportunities she had whether it be in competition, travel, or relationships. Also, the pitfalls and unexpected temporary roadblocks, she heeds with grace. She seeks out what God is teaching her through these unpleasant experiences, (or the great ones as well.) I feel like I’ve already shared too much, but I promise I haven’t revealed her whole story. I found this an incredibly inspirational and encouraging read. Shawn Johnson seems so wise beyond her years, and I find it incredibly cool how she shared her life with readers. I definitely recommend you check it out if you haven’t yet!