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  • Shawn Johnson: Gymnastics deserves more respect

  • The Olympic champion sat down for an interview Friday with the Kirksville Daily Express.
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  • U.S. Olympic champion Shawn Johnson visited Kirksville and Truman State University for a speaking event Friday. Afterward, she sat down and shared thoughts on her future, the state of her sport and more with the Kirksville Daily Express.
    Tell us about what you're doing right now?
    I'm doing a bunch of different things. I've kind of been taking some time off to reinvent, so to speak, myself outside of gymnastics. I'm working on a bunch of gymnastics clinics, camps, competitions, that we're going to be touring with. I'm pretty excited about it.
    I'm working on going to college and working on a gym, but everything else is kind of new, up in the air, hopefully working on some potential show ideas for the Rio Games and make a presence there.
    You're talking about Vanderbilt for college. What do you want to study?
    Sport psychology and dietetics, or nutrition.
    What are your goals with that?
    I want to start a company and implement a program that offers a kind of 'Big Sister,' a mentor, to young female athletes. I would say gymnasts, dancers, cheerleaders, ice skaters, it goes across the board, where they have someone to confide in, but who also has the knowledge and backing behind them to direct them and guide them in what they're doing.
    I know in my career, USA gymnastics, there's nothing offered as far as psychology or nutrition goes, and it's a huge, important part of your sport. If I can be that for girls, then I think we can give them the right path and direction to go.
    You've done so much in your life already, been to so many places. With the passage of time between the Olympics and Dancing With the Stars, do you start to have a different appreciation for all that you've had a chance to do?
    Definitely. Now that I've had a little more time to breathe, so to speak, I definitely look back and see that I have led a whirlwind of a few years. It's crazy to think about all I've done and it's even crazier to think it's just like Chapter 1. I'm just starting.
    It is a blessing. It's surreal.
    You talked about the reaction you got from the media and people in general after the 2008 games. Has that reaction changed over the years?
    Definitely. It's funny to see the reaction now. People are like, 'You're the girl who won at the Olympics.' I'm like, no, but yes, and thank you. It has changed. I think it changes with respect of how you handle yourself. I think had I handled it completely differently and been devastated on a public stage, it would have been different.
    Page 2 of 3 - Gymnastics is a centerpiece of the Olympics. It captivates the nation every four years. In those gaps between, it doesn't completely disappear, but it certainly doesn't garner the same attention. Do you feel your sport has the level of respect it deserves?
    Not at all. The amount of respect people give to our sport once every four years is what I think we deserve every day. You're talking about some of the youngest professional athletes across the world. They're putting in 40 hours a week at the age of 10 to compete on an international stage for the country, and we only really get that acknowledgement one day every four years.
    I'm biased, but I would say every single day I wish we had an NBC segment on what we're doing in the gym. It's a very, very demanding sport on young athletes. I think it needs more coverage.
    For you, now that the Olympics have passed and Dancing With the Stars is over, do you feel like you've stepped out of the public eye and are able to live a more private life?
    I would say yes, but when I walk into a grocery store and I'm still noticed by everybody, it's hard to say that, but I'd say it's slowing down a little bit. I'm not on prime time TV every night anymore, but it's definitely picking up in other areas. Again, you never know what the future holds, especially in a career that is different every day, but maybe later on, down the road, I'll be back on TV or just go into hiding. I'll never know.
    How many speech events like this have you done?
    I've probably done eight or so in the last couple months. I've done quite a few in the last couple months, but 20, 30 over the past few years. Quite a few.
    What do you, personally, take away from them?
    I'd say being on a stage, on a platform, on a pedestal. I read everything. I read what people think I am. They think they know who I am. It's gratifying to me to be able to share my story and to maybe impact one or two people out of an audience of a few hundred, but even more so than that I like people to genuinely get a chance to know who I am, to see that who I am doesn't match up with what everybody says and maybe they don't believe everything people write. It's a way to be more human.
    You spoke to an audience tonight of mostly college students. If you had the opportunity to speak to an audience of kindergartners, what would your message be to them?
    To work hard and have fun, especially when you're talking to kids. I talked about it in the speech, not enough emphasis is put on having fun anymore, it's all about working to succeed and being the best. I think kids need to have fun.
    Page 3 of 3 - Have you had fun?
    I have. I've had a blast.
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