Whether or not you are a sports fan, chances are you’ve heard of Shawn Johnson, the adorable pint-sized powerhouse gymnast and Beijing Olympics gold medalist. What you probably remember most about her (besides her amazing gymnastics ability) is that winning smile, perpetually etched on her face. It’s no wonder she quickly became “America’s Sweetheart.”
Shawn has written a book about her experiences, which found its way to the New York Times Bestseller List. The title? WINNING BALANCE. But although she shares that the balance beam is her favorite gymnastics event, this isn’t a book about physical balance. It’s about achieving balance in life. And for someone who has followed what some might consider a ridiculously crazy schedule, finding that balance could not have come easy for her.
"WINNING BALANCE is well-written and inspiring. Girls everywhere will be encouraged to grab hold of their purpose and run with it. But more importantly, the book will lead you to give credit to the One who gives you purpose and rely on Him to take you places you only dreamed of going."
Each chapter begins with an inspiring quote, and many end with a “Lesson I’ve Learned,” such as this one at the end of Chapter 9: “As long as you’ve done your best, making mistakes doesn’t matter. You and I are human; we will mess up. What counts is learning from your mistakes and getting back up when life has knocked you down.” Also inserted throughout are poems Shawn has written over the years. Some are rhyming, others non-rhyming, but all are heartfelt, sweet and sincere.
This 250-page book is written in chronological order, beginning with details of Shawn’s childhood. She surprisingly reveals that her first gymnastics coach claimed she had absolutely no talent. But because of her love for the sport and sheer determination, along with wonderfully supportive and encouraging parents, she climbed her way up the long and sometimes shaky ladder that led straight to the Olympics.
For someone so young, Shawn is remarkably mature. This isn’t too surprising, considering the obstacles and challenges she has faced in her mere 20 years. One of them included spending time away from the safety net of her parents. Although always supervised at gymnastics training camps and events, it’s still tough not having Mom and Dad there to offer their support, encouragement and unconditional love. Shawn talks about relying on her faith during trying times, though her faith isn’t reserved for the difficult times. She also gives God the glory for her talent and the doors He has opened for her to showcase them.
Roughly two-thirds of the book takes us through Shawn’s journey to and through the Beijing Olympics. Her story, of course, didn’t end once she came home with her medals. At that point, it could be said that she really reached for the stars: “Dancing with the Stars,” that is. She opens up about her reality television experience and being paired with dancing pro Mark Ballas. Competing on the show proved Shawn isn’t just a one-trick pony. “Dancing with the Stars” demands a grueling schedule, but as an Olympic athlete, she already knew how to push herself to the limits and do what it takes to win. It wasn’t easy, and there were a few setbacks, but she and Mark added to her medal count by winning the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy.
After the Olympics, all the media attention and Hollywood glitz, it was back to normal life for Shawn --- as normal as life can be for an Olympic champion. As the book closes, Shawn reflects on her future: “Let’s face it, gymnastics doesn’t last forever. In fact, it lasts a remarkably short amount of time. That’s why I’m beginning to lay the groundwork for the rest of my life now.” Of course, Shawn’s story is not over. And if there’s one thing for sure, she has proven that she has everything it takes not only to reach for the stars but to swing from them as well.
WINNING BALANCE is well-written and inspiring. Girls everywhere will be encouraged to grab hold of their purpose and run with it. But more importantly, the book will lead you to give credit to the One who gives you purpose and rely on Him to take you places you only dreamed of going.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on September 19, 2012