Shawn Johnson — also known by her married name, Shawn Johnson East — is one of the most famous athletes in the world. Johnson was just 16 years old when she dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning several individual medals and helping the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team win the silver medal (via Biography).
Johnson became an Olympic medalist through hard work and determination, traits that continue to help her now that she’s retired from the sport and has embarked on other endeavors. Per her LinkedIn profile, Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in business, management, marketing, and related support services from Penn State World Campus in 2018. Today, she’s a successful businesswoman, author, and doting wife and mother who’s redefining what it means to be a renaissance woman.
While you may have followed her Olympic journey, Johnson is so much more than her gymnastics career, and has changed quite a lot since her days on the mat. From her childhood as an elite athlete to her life in the present day, here’s a closer look at the stunning transformation Shawn Johnson has undergone.
Shawn Johnson discovered her talent for gymnastics at a young age
Some people are blessed to find their niche early in life, and Shawn Johnson is one of them. The athlete discovered her talent for gymnastics when she was just 3 years old. Her mother, Teri Johnson, revealed during the Des Moines Storytellers Project: Parenthood event in 2017 (via the Des Moines Register) that she and her husband enrolled Johnson in the sport "literally out of desperation" as "she was a danger to herself." Teri explained that Johnson was constantly stacking her toys and climbing them to "try to get to a higher level."
As soon as Johnson started gymnastics classes, her future was set, although she didn’t realize it yet. Johnson’s talent was apparent and she fell in love with the sport, but she didn’t start dreaming about the Olympics right away. She told HuffPost that, while she knew she loved gymnastics since she was a little girl, she had no idea at the time how far that talent would take her.
Shawn Johnson had to "exchange" a lot of normal childhood experiences for her athletic career
According to Shawn Johnson’s mom, Teri Johnson, she was just 11 years old when she qualified for the U.S. Woman’s Gymnastics Team. As an elite gymnast, Johnson was expected to put in a lot of practice, but she also did her best to find a balance between school, gymnastics, and a social life. Johnson explained to CreditCards.com that her parents didn’t want her to be hyper-focused on making it to the Olympics but "wanted me to be a normal kid: get in trouble, have chores, go to games and do everything."
Even though she worked to lead as normal of a life as possible, the fact remained that Johnson wasn’t a normal kid. She had to sacrifice a lot for her athletic career, but she doesn’t look at it that way. Instead, she looks at the things she gave up as "exchanges." Johnson had to make a lot of these "exchanges" to pursue gymnastics, telling Parents that she "had to exchange a lot of family time, friend time, school time, and social time for gym time."
Shawn Johnson struggled with an eating disorder
Even though Shawn Johnson tried to have a normal childhood and adolescence and grew up in a supportive family, the pressure of being an elite athlete still got to her. In a 2015 interview with People, Johnson said that she felt pressure to look a certain way. While she was known as a "very strong, powerful, muscly, bulky gymnast," Johnson said she felt pressure "to be thinner and lighter and leaner." This led her to develop restrictive eating habits starting when she was just 12 years old. "I remember kind of obsessing over it," she recalled.
Johnson wouldn’t let herself eat carbs, not even "a single noodle of soup." She said she limited herself to just 700 calories per day, a pattern that continued for years. In a 2020 YouTube video, Johnson also admitted that she also abused Adderall and weight loss pills. "I started doing anything and everything I could to lose the weight," she said
Shawn Johnson won gold when she was just 16
Shawn Johnson stunned the world at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she won big as part of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team. As noted by Biography, Johnson won a total of four medals: she scored a gold medal for her incredible performance on the balance beam, a silver medal in the individual all-around competition, and a silver medal in floor exercise. Johnson’s efforts also helped her team win a silver medal — not too shabby for a 16-year-old girl who just barely met the minimum age requirement to compete.
Johnson’s performance captured hearts all over the world and catapulted her to stardom in ways she didn’t expect. While she thought she’d be able to return to her regular life after the Olympics, her win cemented her celebrity status. It was a turning point in Johnson’s life, and while she was overwhelmed at first, she gradually adjusted to her "new normal" reality. "Adjusting to it was just sorting through all of the opportunities, learning what I liked and disliked and what felt good for me and what felt true to me," she told WBUR.
Shawn Johnson added a mirrorball trophy to her many awards
Winning gold at the Olympics provided Shawn Johnson with a lot of opportunities, including the chance to compete on Dancing With the Stars. Since she was still a minor at the time, the 17-year-old Johnson required a chaperone to accompany her during the competition. To that end, her mother, Teri Johnson, moved to Los Angeles to be with her.
Being on the show was rigorous. Teri said at the Des Moines Storytellers Project: Parenthood (via the Des Moines Register) that her daughter rehearsed six days a week.
Johnson’s hard work paid off, as she ended up winning the coveted mirrorball trophy in 2009. Johnson was the youngest person to compete on the show at the time but still managed to nab the win by a one percent margin. "This is my new gold medal," she told ABC News after being declared the victor. "It’s made me the happiest person ever and changed my life."
A skiing accident derailed Shawn Johnson’s gymnastics career
After her back-to-back wins at the Olympics and on Dancing With the Stars, Shawn Johnson seemed unstoppable. It seemed almost certain that she’d perform well at the 2012 Olympics too, but an accident on a ski trip for her 18th birthday changed everything; she fell and tore her ACL. Johnson underwent surgery and did her best to recover in time for the Olympics, but, as she told WBUR, her "knee just wasn’t having it."
In an interview with Inside Gymnastics, Johnson revealed it wasn’t just her knee holding her back, although she’d undergone two knee surgeries by that point and needed yet another. "I had a partially torn labrum, a fractured back, and then my body was just falling apart," she explained. And while she wanted to continue competing, her injuries were too severe, and Johnson retired from gymnastics a week before the Olympic Trials for the 2012 games.
Stepping away from the sport she’d loved for most of her life was bittersweet. Johnson told WBUR that the decision was "difficult" yet "liberating" as she "finally got to turn the page and go to the next chapter."
Shawn Johnson fell in love with Nashville
After retiring from gymnastics, Shawn Johnson wasn’t entirely sure what to do. The Des Moines native decided to enroll at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and ended up falling in love with the city. "There’s a lot of fun stuff to do, a lot of fun people, and it’s a very young town, so I love that," she told HuffPost.
Johnson didn’t just fall in love with a city, though; she also fell in love with a man. Andrew East was also attending Vanderbilt at the time, and he and Johnson started dating after he was introduced to the gymnast by his older brother.
Johnson’s new life in Nashville proved to be a turning point in more ways than one. Not only was she building a life outside of gymnastics, but she also found a support system in East. Johnson explained to People that until she met him, she hadn’t talked about her history with disordered eating, but that he helped set her on a healthier path. Johnson began to see a nutritionist and developed better eating habits with the help of East and her family.
In 2016, Shawn Johnson and Andrew East tied the knot
Shawn Johnson’s move to Nashville ended up becoming a permanent one, as did her relationship with Andrew East. The couple tied the knot in 2016, but Johnson told FIV that she knew East was the one after just a few dates. Johnson’s family also approved of the match with her mother, Teri Johnson, calling East an "absolutely unbelievably wonderful man" who she knows "is going to take good care of [her daughter]" (via the Des Moines Register).
Additionally, the couple’s relationship seems to be a strong one. It doesn’t hurt that both Johnson and her hubby are athletes — East is a football player.
However, like any married couple, Johnson and East have their ups and downs. Their first year was particularly difficult as they spent more time apart than together due to various work obligations, but Johnson refused to let being separated shake their relationship. "I love him more every single day," she told People in 2017, a year after they were married. "The first year is the hardest and best year of your life!"
Shawn Johnson became a published author
Retiring from gymnastics allowed Shawn Johnson to pursue other avenues, including her love of writing. In fact, Johnson has released a few books over the years. Her first, entitled Shawn Johnson, Olympic Champion: Stories Behind the Smile, was published in 2008. She described this foray into writing to Justine as "kind of like a picture book."
Johnson’s 2012 memoir Winning Balance: What I’ve Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams was meatier and became a New York Times bestseller. Johnson told CBN that working on the book was "therapeutic," as it allowed her to re-visit her younger years. "It was cool, but it was emotional," she said.
In 2016, Johnson’s debut YA novel, The Flip Side, was released. The book centered on a teenage gymnast and was heavily influenced by Johnson’s own experiences growing up. Johnson explained that she loved trying her hand at fiction, although it was harder than penning a memoir as she had to go "just by imagination." She added, "It was a lot of fun. I got to kind of be a kid again."
Shawn Johnson became a YouTube star
Shawn Johnson may have retired from gymnastics, but she didn’t retire from the spotlight. Several years after winning Olympic gold, she returned to screens in the form of her family’s YouTube channel, The East Family. The channel has more than one million subscribers and focuses on Johnson, Andrew East, and their family.
Being a YouTube star has been exciting for Johnson, but it’s also challenging. "It’s tough to find that healthy balance of sharing the appropriate amount without giving everything away," she told FIV. Another challenge, said Johnson, is that "it’s difficult to maintain relevancy" and to churn out a steady stream of content that will resonate with viewers.
Johnson is also active on other social media, including Instagram, where she has millions of followers. Her social media presence has also proven to be quite lucrative. "We’ve done better with ourselves [financially] in the past year with social than the Olympics produced, which is crazy for us," she told the Des Moines Register in 2017.
Shawn Johnson launched a career as an entrepreneur
Shawn Johnson is a woman of many talents. Another area she’s turned her considerable skills to is the world of business. In 2017, she joined the reality show Adventure Capitalists, in which entrepreneurs pitched their products to a panel of investors who try out the products before deciding whether or not to invest. The products featured on the show were designed for the outdoors, which was perfect for Johnson, a self-professed "adrenaline junkie."
Johnson was excited to join the show as an investor because it allowed her to show the world another side of her. The athlete explained to USA Today‘s For the Win that she’s been involved in the business world for a long time as she’d helped to negotiate her contracts for years. "Business is something I’m comfortable with," she shared.
Per her Adventure Capitalists bio, Johnson also co-founded The Body Department, which describes itself as "a creative collective on a mission to propel wellness, fitness and female empowerment within the digital space." She and her husband, Andrew East, also run multimedia company SMJ Inc. and, in 2020, launched a sock puppet line for kids called Teddy & Bear.
Shawn Johnson channeled her love for gymnastics into coaching
While Shawn Johnson is retired from gymnastics, the sport will always be part of her life. To that end, Johnson has done some coaching since her retirement, although this appears to be more of a side project than another career path — for now, at least. "I love working with kids and seeing them learn," Johnson told Lifehacker in 2017, adding that she admires the "passion and drive" kids have.
Johnson certainly has the skills and experience to coach at an elite level, but she’s admitted that she’s unsure if she’d want to do that as a career. She told Inside Gymnastics that the elite level is "so intense" and she’d rather "have more fun with it than that." Johnson added that coaching at the collegiate level, though, is something that she could see herself doing one day.
Coaching gymnastics isn’t the only way Johnson has pursued her passion for fitness and athletics. On her website, she revealed that she also became a certified Nike trainer after retiring from gymnastics.
Shawn Johnson suffered a devastating miscarriage
Tragedy struck in 2017 when Shawn Johnson suffered a devastating miscarriage. Johnson was crushed by the loss, telling People she "felt so sad and guilty" and like she "had done something wrong," even though her doctor told her no one was at fault. Still, Johnson worried that the strain she’d put her body as an elite gymnast, between the rigorous training and "extreme diets," was responsible; she always feared that her past would make it difficult for her to even get pregnant. "I couldn’t help but think I did enough damage to my body at a young age that it was almost, like, payback," she confessed.
Johnson and her husband opened up about the heartbreaking loss in a 2018 YouTube video for I Am Second. Johnson said the miscarriage "was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through," but that she and her husband eventually worked through their grief by relying on their faith in God.
Shawn Johnson is focused on her growing family
Two years after going through what no parent should ever have to suffer, Shawn Johnson and Andrew East welcomed their first child. "You are our everything," Johnson wrote in the caption of a 2019 Instagram pic of the happy couple welcoming their baby girl. Like her parents, Drew Hazel East quickly became an influencer herself, and boasts more than half a million followers on Instagram.
Motherhood agrees with Johnson, although it’s been challenging at times. She told Us Weekly that she’s a bit of a "micromanager" and struggles with mom guilt. "Every single decision you make you feel is impacting their future and setting them up for life or tearing them down," she revealed. Johnson also explained in an interview with Glamour that there’s "so much pressure on moms to be perfect," and that it can be overwhelming at times.
Still, Johnson loves being a mom and has learned "how to go with the flow" when it comes to parenting. The former Olympian hopes to keep growing her family, telling Us Weekly in 2020 that she and East "would love a baby anytime."