Winning Balance: What I've Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams

Winning Balance: What I've Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams

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by Shawn Johnson

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The inspiring story of a pint-size American gymnast with a big smile and an even bigger heart
You’ve seen her perform gravity-defying gymnastics moves. You’ve seen her win Olympic medals in Beijing and the coveted mirror ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars. You’ve also seen her land on her feet—with her trademark…  See more details below


The inspiring story of a pint-size American gymnast with a big smile and an even bigger heart
You’ve seen her perform gravity-defying gymnastics moves. You’ve seen her win Olympic medals in Beijing and the coveted mirror ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars. You’ve also seen her land on her feet—with her trademark smile—even when things haven’t gone her way.

Despite achieving more success and celebrity in her first two decades than most people experience in a lifetime, things haven’t been easy for Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson. Her first gymnastics coach told her family she lacked talent. Her modest upbringing in Iowa made elite competition unlikely. Although she won four medals at the Beijing Olympics, she was denied the big prize she’d dreamed of—the all-around gold medal. She had a terrifying experience with a stalker and would-be kidnapper. And after suffering a potentially career-ending injury, Shawn ultimately had to rethink what was truly important. What did she want most in life? What kind of success was worth pursuing? Would she ever find true faith, lasting hope, and real love?

In Winning Balance, for the first time Shawn reveals her journey so far: her against-the-odds quest to become a gymnastics world champion, her flirtation with Hollywood glamour, her growing faith, and her struggle to find herself. It’s the full, behind-the-scenes story of how a young woman who won Olympic gold on the balance beam learned new lessons about balance— as well as love, faith, and what winning really means.

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Editorial Reviews

One gold and three silvers: For any other gymnast, it would have been a banner Olympics year, but for Iowa native Shawn Johnson, the 2008 Beijing games squashed her lifelong dream of winning the all-around championship. Yet, with her signature perseverance, she didn't let down her millions of fans, waiting less than a year before she entered and won the eighth season of Dancing With The Stars. Reading Winning Balance, you will be startled by how much this smiling pixie has already experienced in just twenty years and gratified that in that brief time, she has achieved such spiritual balance.

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Tyndale House Publishers
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5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

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What I've learned so far about love, faith, and living your dreams
By Shawn Johnson Nancy French

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Shawn Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-7210-5

Chapter One


Other things may change us, but we start and end with family. —Anthony Brandt

The first score I ever received was given on January 19, 1992, at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines. I was one minute old when the doctor took me aside to perform the routine Apgar test, a simple examination given to newborns to determine their health at birth. The Apgar—which stands for appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration—evaluates the baby's muscle tone, heart rate, facial movement, reflexes, and breathing. Based on those factors, the test assigns a score from zero to ten.

After taking medication to prevent premature labor, my mom had anxiously waited for her due date—and then waited some more. Despite fears that I would arrive early, I actually arrived late. When the doctor discovered the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, he called a neonatal specialist to work on me as soon as I was born. My parents could tell something was wrong by the concerned look on the doctor's face and the frantic way the nurses were caring for me.

They watched as the specialist worked on me in the corner of the room before telling my parents that they needed to move me to the neonatal nursery. Dad followed the nurses when they whisked me away. He wasn't going to let me out of his sight. And I wasn't looking good. The first thing Dad noticed was that my skin looked gray. The doctor said I had been without oxygen for a while, so I wasn't responding the way a healthy baby should. They put me in an incubator for forty-eight hours so they could monitor my health, and I became more responsive pretty quickly.

Only later, when my parents were going through paperwork, did they see the score of my Apgar test: a big, fat zero.

By that time, though, I'd recovered from my trauma and looked like any other healthy six-pound, nine-ounce newborn. My parents were hoping I'd be strong enough to one day run and play like other kids, but they had no idea that the nearly seven-pound bundle of joy they were holding was a future Olympic champion.

After all, even if I'd had an easy birth, there was no reason to believe I'd be particularly athletic. Dad played hockey and wrestled in school, but Mom never participated in organized sports. She did gymnastics recreationally but never competed. However, both Mom and Dad roller-skated, which is what brought them together. They met when they were only thirteen years old at a roller rink in a small Iowa town. Maybe it was the romantic music playing over the loudspeaker or maybe it was just destiny, but soon they were skating hand in hand around that rink.

They saw each other around town whenever possible, even though they didn't attend the same school. Because her family moved several times, Mom attended three different high schools in the area. Yet Dad was a constant in her life. Mom had a little motorbike, which she would ride four miles to see him. They also sat together at football games, and Mom started going to Dad's wrestling matches. In 1977, they decided to get married two weeks after Mom graduated from high school. Because she was just seventeen, she had to get her parents' permission. Needless to say, their engagement raised eyebrows around town. The fact that I didn't show up until fifteen years later quieted the rumors.

In the meantime, Dad went to work for a construction company, learning to frame and then becoming especially skilled at interior trim work. Several years before I was born, he and his brother started their own contracting business. Mom, who had grown up helping her mom keep the records for her stepdad's business, continued working in bookkeeping and accounting.

Growing up, Mom's family had moved around a lot, so once she was married, she worked hard to create a warm, welcoming home with my dad. Not long after they married, they got a dog, the first of several family pets. Dude, their first golden retriever, arrived just about a year before I did. He would become one of my first playmates.

Once Mom was pregnant, they talked about choosing the perfect name. They loved "Shawn," which was going to be my name whether I was a girl or a boy. If I'd been a boy, I would have been Shaun Douglas, after my dad. However, since I was a girl, I was named Shawn Machel (pronounced like the traditional spelling "Michelle") after my mother, Teri Machel Johnson. I used to hate my name because the kids at school thought it was a boy's name. However, I've grown to love its strength, uniqueness, and meaning: God is gracious.

By the time we left the hospital, my parents had the healthy newborn they'd waited so long for. Though they were certainly ready to welcome a baby, Mom was a little afraid. I seemed so delicate and tiny. When she gave me a bath, she was more hesitant than if she had been washing fine china. When she changed my diaper, she was worried she'd hurt me.

That's how Dad ended up doing a lot of the bathing and the feeding when we first came home from the hospital. After working all day doing trim work, he would come home and immediately bathe, feed, and take care of me until bedtime. This might explain why I'm such a daddy's girl even to this day.

Once when I was still a baby, I was lying on the couch when Dude, who had just noticed movement outside the window, jumped on top of me to get a closer look. Mom was convinced that I'd punctured my lungs and frantically called the doctor.

"Well," he asked, "is she breathing?"

"Yes," my mom replied.

"Then," he assured her, "she's going to be just fine."

After a few months, Mom learned I wasn't nearly as breakable as she thought. She found that my arms could actually be raised and bent to fit into my tiny clothes. My head survived, even when she stretched the opening of a shirt to fit around it. Bathing me and changing my diaper now came naturally ... no matter how much I wriggled.

And—wow—did I wriggle.

In fact, by the time I was about six months old, my mom began noticing that when I eyed something, I was so determined to get it that I rolled sideways until I could reach it. I completely skipped the crawling stage. When I was nine months old, my parents looked up one day to see me toddling into their room, grinning from ear to ear. I had flipped out of my crib and sauntered to their bedroom. They had no idea how I'd learned to walk.

I never slowed down after that. Once, I crawled up on the kitchen counter to try skydiving. (Hey, I was little ... so the counter seemed as high as the sky to me back then.) When I landed, my teeth went through my bottom lip, and there was blood everywhere. But that injury didn't stop me for long. As a toddler, I would pile all of my toys on the floor as a makeshift ladder to reach the top of our entertainment center. From there, I'd jump onto the red leather couch, pretending it was a trampoline.

Even more fun than trying these daredevil tricks myself was urging my cousin, Tori, to do them with me. Tori, the daughter of my mom's sister, is two years older than I am and a bit more cautious. I had to talk her into doing flips over our couch. When she stayed over on Saturday nights, we'd sleep in the bunk beds in our basement. I loved to do flips and pull-ups on them, as well as hang from the bars. At first Tori just watched, but before long she was doing them with me.

Tori and I also loved to play outdoors. Sometimes we dressed up and acted out stories; other times we would take turns tying a rope around our waists and pulling each other in a wagon. Since I was smaller and younger than Tori, I'd also jump on her back and let her carry me around.

I'm an only child and Tori's brother is eight years older, so I guess it's not surprising that we not only played like sisters—we also fought like them. I admit I was usually the instigator. When we'd be playing in the basement, occasionally I'd hit her lightly, waiting for her to respond. Almost always, she'd give me a funny look and keep playing. But I'd go running upstairs, crying that Tori had hit me. Though she was the one who got in trouble, she never held it against me.

Tori also joined me in my first tumbling and dancing classes. Because I was so physically active, Mom decided she needed to find an outlet for all of my energy. Even though Tori went with me, I had no desire to continue either of those activities. So my mom took me to a local gymnastics center and signed me up. It's not that she was particularly fond of the sport. She just knew that I needed a large, open (and soft!) place to play. And I loved it. Even though the coaches were very strict, I enjoyed tumbling and running and always had a smile on my face while I was there. For three years, I happily went to the gym at least once a week. My coach told my mom that I was full of energy, but not full of talent.

Then Mom heard about a new gym that was closer to our home. One day after dropping me off at my gymnastics class, Mom drove to that facility and watched a class through the windows. She was struck by how happy all the young gymnasts appeared and how much fun they seemed to be having. She never imagined that she was staring at my future.

Lesson I've Learned

Even if you fly high in life, stay grounded. From the time I was very small, my parents supported my daring ventures out into the world, while making home a place I always wanted to come back to.


Excerpted from WINNING BALANCE by Shawn Johnson Nancy French Copyright © 2012 by Shawn Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Olympic gold-medalist gymnast Johnson has written an endearing memoir of her rise to winning three silver medals and one gold at age 16. Every bit as interesting are her accounts of coping with the aftermath of fame, both as an Olympic champion and as a reality-TV star on Dancing with the Stars. Among the details: slips on the balance beam in front of Olympic judges, spats with parents, learning to wear heels, and realizing that what looks good on TV—makeup and hair extensions—can look strange in person. Johnson’s “balanced” beginnings seem almost too idyllic at the start of the book, but as her struggle toward Olympic glory plays out, we come to appreciate the sturdy values of parents who knew instinctively to honor her high energy and uniqueness. Johnson emerges as a powerhouse champion with a winning attitude, always making the best of circumstances, even an injury that could have ended her career. Her book celebrates both family love and faith in God as wellsprings of strength. A solid offering from a woman wiser than her years suggest she might be.

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Winning Balance: What I've Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 83 reviews.
ShannonMar More than 1 year ago
20 Year old Shawn Johnson is just a normal person. She has dreams, hopes, and aspirations just like anybody else. But unlike anybody else, Shawn Johnson is an Olympic champion. She holds 1 gold and 3 silver medals in women's gymnastics, and earned the title of U.S all-around champion two years in a row, 2007, and 2008, and was the all-around world champion in 2008. At an age when most people are halfway through college, Shawn has made it all the way to fame, with a mirror ball from the eighth season of ABC's Dancing With The Stars to her credit, as well as numerous television appearance's with well-known personalities, including Oprah, Letterman, and Leno. But despite all the awards and fame, Shawn insists that she's really just a regular person. Her book Winning Balance: What I've learned so far about love, faith, and living your dreams is the perfect platform for her to share her story with the world. Her writing shines through as honest, genuine, and deeply felt. Shawn is perhaps a bit different from most gymnasts in that her parents never forced her to train, gymnastics started out as safe way for her to tumble around the way she loved to do, and because of that, Shawn's love for gymnastics grew into a passion that took her all the way to Beijing in 2008, and into the world's spotlight. Although she wasn't a regular church attender when she was younger, Shawn has grown in her faith, and demonstrates that a relationship with God doesn't grow out of staring toward the front of a church for two hours a week and leaving, it grows from a desire to know God intimately, and from God's desire to bring us into His kingdom. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Because I was not familiar with Shawn or her career as a gymnast, I keenly felt every element of suspense she weaved into Winning Balance. I clapped every time she had a gymnastic victory, I cried along with her when she tore her ACL, and I laughed to myself when she let her wit shine through the pages. Anyone who is interested in gymnastics, Shawn Johnson, or her faith journey will enjoy this book at all. It is well-written and concisely communicated, and a joy to read. Having just announced her retirement from gymnastics on June 3rd, 2012, Shawn Johnson is standing on the edge of a new chapter in her life, and wherever God and her passion for gymnastics take her, I will be a cheering fan. I received this book for free from Tyndale Momentum for review purposes
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My mom went to a Christian bookstore fair and actually was able to meet Shawn. I extremely enjoyed reading her book. Shawn Johnson is very open and honest, talking about a variety of key moments in her life - from growing up in Des Moines, dedicating almost her entire childhood to becoming one of the world's greatest gymnasts, the fierce competition at the Beijing, a brief but impacting experience in Hollywood, the fear of the man who was planning to kidnap her, a skiing accident, and finally her vital decision to end her career competing. Additionally, she includes some poems she wrote throughout her teen years, and parts from her journal. I highly recommend her book. It is an excellent Part One to her life. Shawn is a great role model to many people today. Since many magazines have written a lot about her, I am glad she took the time to sit down and share her side of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's hard to know their life outside of gymnastics.This book showed it !! !!
tatormc More than 1 year ago
I love gymnastics so I had a feeling I'd love this book. Great story about a girl who found an outlet for her energy. I love how her parents always supported her but never pushed. This is a fun and entertaining read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is AMAZING... Great story of Shawns incredible journey. Highly recommended!!!!!!!
kristen4mk More than 1 year ago
I was so excited to get to read this book - I received it around the 2012 Olympics, and as someone who pays close attention to gymnastics, especially at Olympics time! -I was super excited to hear Shawn's story. Being an elite gymnast is not a simple or carefree lifestyle, and I loved that Shawn's parents were determined from the beginning that she choose it - she would not be forced - and that it stay fun and she have as typical a life as possible. Shawn has a fun sense of humor and it's clear she doesn't take herself too seriously, but she is definitely a hard worker and clearly loves the sport. I loved Shawn's openness in sharing her thought process regarding both her struggles and victories; I loved the 'Lesson I've Learned' feature at the end of every chapter; I appreciated her transparency in sharing her poetry in the book....all in all this was a special book and I can highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book if you are a gymnast or an athlete or nothing anyone can connect!!!!
themiraclesnook More than 1 year ago
So with the 2012 summer Olympic Games almost over I was able to get a book I had requested before the games began; my goal was to read about the Olympians. What I found is that everyone at my library might have had the same goal as it was hard to get the books. The book I was able to get was by Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson. It is called Winning Balance What I've Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams .What I found out about Shawn Johnson is that she is creative and thoughtful. I thought how kids in their tweens could benefit from this book. At 20 years of age she is a good role model for them. She has also lived a big life that most 40 years old have not even lived. In this book Shawn walks you through her lessons learned. In the books she has some of her own poetry talks of her time as a child, her time in the Olympics and her time on Dancing with the Stars. I enjoyed this book and found some of the quotes she uses fun. I liked this book. I give it my three star rating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a real gymnast because i am 10 and already have 10 medals and 1 trophy and this is my first season Shawn autographed my book because Ryan is my cousin (Not kidding)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi all you gymnasts! Please follow me on twitter and facebook! And always try your best and follow your dreams! Love, Shawn A. Johnson
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read Dominique Moceanue's book (Unbalanced) and then this one. Two gymnasts make the same journey in incredibly different ways! Shawn tells her story in a positive upbeat way and we learn more about the world of competitive gymnastics. Enjoyable read for sure!
aimymichelle More than 1 year ago
At 20 years old Shawn Johnson is a four-time Olympic gold and silver gymnast, a national and world champion athlete. She is also a popular role model to all ages. In 2009 she won the Dancing with the Stars competition, and is no stranger to hard work. Though, she lost the gold medal in a competition in which she was the favorite to win. She had worked on gymnastics all throughout her childhood. But later just when she was going to head back to that world, she suffered a potentially career-ending injury while skiing. It forced her to halt everything and rethink what was really important, to reevaluate who she was and where she was going. This memoir by Shawn Johnson was quite good. I really enjoyed reading her thoughts and the details of events that have happened throughout her life. I love watching the gymnastics when they are on during the summer Olympics, and even though I'm not a diehard fan of gymnastics, I really loved reading this book. Seeing her perspective on everything that has gone on while competing and even while practicing really gave great insight into how life in the gymnastics competing world is. This would be a great novel to read even if you just followed Shawn Johnson during Olympics, or even if you have a teenage daughter. It's just a great read no matter what.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having been a gymnast, Shawn Johnson was my rolemodel. I always commented about how easy her and the other olympic athletes make their sports seem. Reading this see that Shawn struggled throughout life, whether it was in the gym or when she was left alone on the playground because no one would play with her. Shawn tells the many stories I already knew but in ways the magazine articles and newcasters can't. She lets you see a lot more than you ever thought was going on behind one of America's sweetheart's famous smile. But she helps everyone to see that if you fight for what you want and stay true to who you are, you can achieve the best "gold medal" of them all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She is such a good.role modle amd she's great at gymnastics. Really like this book because it tells her life
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cant read any if my nook tablet book they all just wont show any words and it is making me made if anyone knows how to fix it please tell me.!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I need to know the lexile but great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is it good? #isitgood
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got the sample and didnt want to buy it cause i can buy it cheaper but i read the sample and really want it know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is such a great book. Right when I read the sample it had me and I was so temted to buy the book. So I did! I am almost done with it and it is so inspiring. In words, it is a book that I would recomend to a friend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shaw johnson basically just tells about how she became an olympian and all of the stuff she had to do to get there. It is not an auto biography she said in the book she just wants it to be a normal book. Overall it is an outstanding book and is very interesting. I want to become a gymnast in the olympics or atleast an elite gymnast. If you like gymnastics you should read this!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. It is a book all about Shawn Johnson's life, from the time she started training for the olympics, until now. Shawn tells alot of details about her trip to Beijing. In Beijing she picks up a relationship with Taylor, a olympic cycler, finds a huge fan club, and suffers a bit of homesickness. She also tells about her life afterwards, like Dancing With The Stars. And trying to train for london 2012. Overall it is a great book . For ages 10-adult
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very up close and personal of an amazing personality!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was great
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great champion!