CEDAR RAPIDS — Shawn Johnson marked her 20th birthday Thursday, but had no plans, or time, to celebrate.
“I’ll just be in the gym,” says the Olympic gold medal winner, who continues to train at Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute in West Des Moines, where she got her start in gymnastics at age 3.
When reached by phone last week, Johnson was furthering that intensive training at the Michael Johnson Performance Center near Dallas, Texas, as she makes her comeback in hopes of securing a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
“It’s kind of like boot camp,” says Johnson, who will speak Tuesday, Jan. 24, in Cedar Rapids for a St. Luke’s Hospital LiveWell event. “You eat, sleep and breathe athletics.”
Olympic trials for gymnastics are June 28 to July 1 in San Jose, Calif.
Competition will be stiff as only five women can make the team for the summer Olympics in London, one less than in 2008.
“That’s definitely the goal,” Johnson says of her aspiration to compete in the Olympics, while acknowledging that the change could make that task more difficult. “It’s going to be a huge puzzle.”
Already, Johnson has had to overcome injury hurdles, including knee surgery stemming from a fall while skiing in 2010, and an ankle sprain that happened before the World Championships in Tokyo last year.
She failed to make the World Championships team, but won silver on uneven bars at the Pan American games in October.
“It was an amazing competition,” she says of her return to the international scene.
Unlike the 2008 Olympics, where Johnson was the youngster at age 16, she “played the mama role” for her teammates in the Pan Am Games.
“I loved it,” she says. “I was able to offer them advice because I’ve been through it all.”
Sixteen is prime for female gymnasts, so Johnson is also confronting the age issue.
“I’m getting there,” she says of her fitness level. “I’m giving it all I’ve got.”
The balance beam, where she earned gold in the Beijing Olympics, is still her strongest, and favorite, event, Johnson says.
She also was an all-around and floor exercise silver medalist in 2008, but another competition is what brought the Iowa native even more fame.
Johnson’s winning turn on the television show, “Dancing With the Stars,” is the reason most people recognize her, she acknowledges.
Even as the show put an intense spotlight on her, Johnson calls it “an experience of a lifetime.”
The scrutiny that accompanies fame includes questions about her personal life, but the Twitter-loving Johnson is mum on whether or not she has a boyfriend. “That’s a secret,” she says.
Her future could include college at Stanford University, where she hopes to pursue a business major, and continuing to coach at gymnastics camps and clinics, though she has no plan to open a gym of her own.
Finding an activity like dancing or “anything that gets you up and active” will be part of Johnson’s message in Cedar Rapids.
No tickets are left for the free event, but people are welcome to wait in a standby line to enter as seating and space allow.
Johnson says she will share the story of how her passion has driven her career and encourage those in attendance to follow their own passions to stay healthy and fit.
“If you find something you love, it comes naturally,” she says.