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

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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 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 ...

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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 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

From Barnes & Noble

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.

From the Publisher

"Four-time Olympic gold and silver medalist Shawn Johnson narrates her memoir with charm, vigor, and youthful eloquence. She sincerely portrays her belief that everything happens for a reason and all things happen for the good when you walk by faith. In a soft, mellow voice she characterizes herself as part "nerd, tomboy, and girlie girl." Her tone changes to one of thoughtful conviction when she describes her purpose in writing: to reflect on lessons learned. Specific examples include the disappointment of losing the gold medal in Beijing, the drama of a potentially career-ending ski injury, and the excitement of her surprise flirtation with Hollywood stardom when she won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009. A section called "Lessons I've Learned" ends each chapter. Johnson's story and narration engage and inspire." 
G.D.W. © AudioFile Portland, Maine
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.
Library Journal
Johnson has led a charmed life, bringing home a gold medal in the 2008 summer Olympics and winning the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars, all before the age of 20. Along with French (coauthor, Bristol Palin's My Journey So Far), Johnson writes an incredibly upbeat memoir in which she catalogs her years as an Olympic gymnast while remaining a good student and weathering the difficulties of adolescence easily by trusting in God. Gymnastics enthusiasts will find interesting the segments about training with the famous Bela and Márta Karolyi. At times overly simplistic, naive, and self-absorbed, Johnson imparts life lessons that she outlines at the end of each chapter, which ensures that readers over 25 will find her book juvenile. VERDICT Gymnastics fans will no doubt enjoy the details, but this book should have been marketed to teen readers, who are more likely to appreciate the youthful tone and adolescent perkiness. Compared with Beard, reviewed above, Johnson's book lacks depth and wisdom about real-life struggles and comes off as memoir-lite.—Holly Hebert, Brentwood P.L., TN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781613751275
  • Publisher: Oasis Audio
  • Publication date: 6/5/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged Edition
  • Pages: 6
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Shawn Johnson is an Olympic gold and three-time silver medalist in women's gymnastics. She was the 2007 all-around World Champion and the 2007 and 2008 US all-around champion. Shawn won the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars as the youngest competitor in the show's history. She has appeared on Oprah, Today, Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show, and other programs. Shawn earned ESPN's ESPY Award for Best US Female Olympian in 2009; she also won the Teen Choice Female Athlete of the Year Award in both 2009 and 2011.
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Read an Excerpt


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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Table of Contents


A Note from Shawn....................ix
"My Lord's Prayer"....................xi
Part 1 Finding Fire....................1
CHAPTER 1 Unbreakable....................3
CHAPTER 2 Finding My Place....................9
CHAPTER 3 Just a Normal Girl....................21
CHAPTER 4 Inspiration....................29
CHAPTER 5 The Secret Video....................35
CHAPTER 6 Not Your Average Summer Camp....................41
CHAPTER 7 "Who Is That Girl?"....................47
CHAPTER 8 Watch Me, World!....................55
CHAPTER 9 A Cast and Some Power Tools....................63
CHAPTER 10 Travails and Trials....................71
CHAPTER 11 Nothing Is Certain....................79
Part 2 Champion....................83
CHAPTER 12 Handstands at 35,000 Feet....................85
CHAPTER 13 The Showdown....................93
CHAPTER 14 The Day I Grew Up....................99
CHAPTER 15 Do Not Make Bob Costas Angry....................107
CHAPTER 16 A Truly Winning Balance....................113
CHAPTER 17 More Than I'd Bargained For....................123
CHAPTER 18 Last Night in Beijing....................133
CHAPTER 19 Proud to Be an American....................139
CHAPTER 20 The Best of Both Worlds....................147
Part 3 Dancing through Life....................151
CHAPTER 21 Hollywood, Here I Come!....................153
CHAPTER 22 Finding My Space....................161
CHAPTER 23 An Arresting Development....................167
CHAPTER 24 Little Bullets....................177
CHAPTER 25 The Mirror Ball of Glory....................185
CHAPTER 26 Learning to Be Me Again....................193
CHAPTER 27 Shaping Up....................199
CHAPTER 28 How God Became More Real to Me....................203
CHAPTER 29 Wipeout....................211
Part 4 Coming Back....................217
CHAPTER 30 Everything Changes....................219
CHAPTER 31 The Surprise Announcement....................225
CHAPTER 32 A New Identity....................231
CHAPTER 33 Just Believe....................237
CHAPTER 34 No Regrets....................241
"My Heart"....................247
About the Author....................253
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