U.S. top gymnast manages to lead a relatively 'normal' life
Which is precisely how the Johnsons, Doug and
"My parents think it's mandatory that I lead a normal life," Shawn told
Doug, a carpenter, and Teri, an accounting clerk for the West Des Moines school system, decided to leave Shawn at Valley High, a public school. They also met with Shawn's coach, former Chinese team co-captain
"In any kind of sport, it's easy to get burned out," Doug said. "That's why it's important to us that she do other things."
That includes attending Valley until noon each day before heading to the gym to train. At Valley, teachers and administrators have teamed up to help Johnson juggle school and the life of an elite gymnast. Because of safety concerns, the leased Land Rover she drives -- a gift from a sponsor -- has its own spot in the faculty lot, but other than the occasional meeting with a teacher to catch up after an absence for a meet, that's about all the special treatment Johnson gets. "Shawn and her family have never asked for exceptions," Valley principal
And even though they've sunk much of their own money into Shawn's career, Doug and Teri have not asked for a cut of her earnings from sponsorship deals with Coca-Cola, adidas, McDonald's and other companies. Instead, they've banked that money so Shawn, an A student who might someday attend an Ivy League school, can pay for college. "It's a big burden," Doug said, "that we don't have to worry about."
Instead, the Johnsons will worry about Shawn having fun as she prepares for the meet of a lifetime in Beijing. "From the very beginning, we took it that her life growing up was more important than gymnastics," Doug said. "We wanted her to have memories of being a kid."