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Hear an Olympian's advice for kids: Be active, make good choices

Posted on Feb 4, 2014 ( comments)
Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson will speak Thursday in Tacoma.

Join four-time Olympic medalist and “Dancing With the Stars” champ Shawn Johnson in Tacoma on Thursday, Feb. 6, for MultiCare Health System’s 14th annual “Do Something Healthy” event.

“We asked Shawn to speak because she is an inspiration for young girls to be active, to work hard but also to have fun as they follow their dreams,” says Trixy Dorn, Community Events and Program Coordinator with the Center for Healthy Living.

Back when Johnson was 3 years old, her parents channeled her high energy into gymnastics.

Johnson quotes her mom as saying, “The wild child just needed something to do!”

These days, Johnson has channeled her energy into supporting the U.S. Olympic team, competing as a ballroom dancer, and speaking to young people about the fun of staying healthy and fit.

On Thursday in Tacoma, Johnson will share more about where she’s been — and where she’s going — with girls and their families in our community.

As a preview, Johnson offers these golden rules for finding and following your dreams:

Listen to your heart

When Johnson was 6, her gymnastics coach said she lacked talent. But she loved flying through the air, so off she went to a new coach and a new gym.

There, she put her heart into mastering — level by level — the skills she needed to become the best at what she loved.

For any girl who hears “You can’t do it,” Johnson’s advice is to set your sights high, to never give up and to spend time with people who do support your goals.

Not sure what your heart is telling you?

Try journaling, as Johnson has done since grade school. Writing about your values, hobbies, favorite subjects, and whether you like going solo or teaming up may help you identify your passions.

Learn to make good choices

Having a healthy body is one key to turning dreams into reality. At every age, that means choosing to eat right and exercise. Both can help with something American girls tend to focus on: body image.

Even though Johnson grew up eating right and loved being active, she’s no stranger to body image worries. At age 10, she heard something many young gymnasts do: “You need to lose a few pounds.” 

Later, as a teenager entering puberty (just as she began “Dancing With The Stars”), her maturing body was scrutinized and publicly criticized. Though she knew she was a normal girl, new curves and all, the criticism stung. Johnson believes her parents’ focus on healthy eating and their unwavering support — including telling her she’s beautiful — helped her make the healthy choice to ignore childhood criticism that could have led to an eating disorder.

Supportive parents can also help their daughters make healthy choices in the face of another powerful force: peer pressure.

One way to help girls resist it and stand up for their beliefs is by role-playing tricky situations, like how to say no to alcohol and how to safely support someone who’s being bullied.

For Johnson, there’s one choice she always makes: taking her parents’ advice to follow the golden rule. In her memoir, “Winning Balance,” she writes, “Though [my parents] tolerated my daredevil antics and wholeheartedly supported my passion for gymnastics, they always made it clear they were most concerned about the way I treated other people.”

Be open to new things

At age 18, the girl whose hard work and passion took her to the top of the 2008 Olympic podium injured her knee skiing. When she realized her body could no longer withstand the demands of gymnastics, Shawn Johnson gracefully retired from her beloved sport, ending her dream of winning gold in the 2012 Olympics. 

Fortunately, while gymnastics was her passion, it was never her whole life. 

“If one activity becomes everything to you, you may have nothing left if you lose it,” she writes.

Posted in: Kids' Health | Tacoma
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