Published: November 20, 2010 10:40 PM
By ALEXANDRA ACKER, ELIZABETH CHATPAR, NIJAT KHANBABAYEV AND ARNOLD NAM Kidsday Reporters
We interviewed Olympic gymnast and “Dancing With the Stars” star Shawn Johnson in Manhattan recently.
How did it feel to be the youngest contestant on “Dancing With the Stars,” and what made you be a part of it?
It was nerve-racking being the youngest contestant of “DWTS,” but it was also a challenge because I wanted to prove to people that kids our age can also be a part of things like that. What made me be a part of it? “DWTS” is my favorite show, and who wouldn’t take the opportunity to be part of something like that?
How did it feel carrying the Olympic torch in Calgary?
It was an honor carrying the Olympic torch, especially after being a part of the Olympics. . . . Everything that we work for is held in that Olympic flame and also being a part of it, to hold it, touch it and pass it on. It’s just being a part of the whole Olympic movement. It’s cool.
I think the U.S. will dominate in London. That’s what we’re working for.
Did you ever not want to play gymnastics when you were a child, and how did you go about it?
I did quite a few times. Only because it got really difficult and started taking up all of my time, but every time I would take a break from gymnastics, I found myself missing it, wanting to go back.
After getting Olympic medals at such a young age and winning “DWTS,” what goals do you have for yourself now?
I make new goals for myself on a daily basis. I have lists and lists of things I want to do. But it’s just about, you know, the Olympics was the biggest dream I could have ever imagined. Now that I have succeeded in it, and gone beyond that, it makes me feel that anything’s possible. I don’t know. There’s a lot of things that I want to achieve and do. I’m not sure what it is yet.
Compare how you felt when you won the Olympics and “DWTS”?
Well, the Olympics is something I worked for for 13 years. I started when I was 3. I worked my whole life for it. And just having that pride representing your country and being selected as part of the most prestigious team out there was an honor. But “DWTS” was something new.
When you started gymnastics, were you surprised that you were so good at it?
I never thought I was good; especially at the beginning, I wasn’t any good. But I loved it, and that’s all that mattered.
Do you have any pets at home, and who takes care of them when you’re away?
I have four pets at home. I have two cats and two dogs. And my grandma takes care of them when I’m gone.
Who is your role model?
My role models were always my parents because they kept me grounded and normal.
Where are your medals, and what do you do with them?
My medals are at home.
Do you think role models are important to kids and why?
I think role models are extremely important to kids just because it gives them something or somebody to look up to, base what they do off of. They need somebody to kind of lead them in the right direction.
How do you spend time with your parents?
We watch movies or TV. We go for walks. Just hang out and talk.
Do you think the Wii could have a role in helping overweight kids?
I definitely think so. Wii’s going in a great direction with child obesity. They have the Wii fit now where you can do different sports and exercises, yoga. There’s a really fun one where you can hula hoop. It’s hard, but it keeps you moving, and it’s definitely going in the right direction.
What is your favorite movie?
I don’t know. I have a lot of favorite movies. “Miss Congeniality,” that’s a good movie. “Finding Nemo.”
What is your favorite book?
There’s this book called “You Go Girl,” and it’s a collection of female athletes’ stories and how they got their dream and what they accomplished and what they went through.
Which Ivy League college do you want to go to, and why do you want to study medicine?
I’m looking into Stanford [University], that’s the college I want to go. That’s the one I’m looking at right now. But a major, I’m not quite sure yet. Medicine is something that I’ve always been interested in. I don’t know if I will pursue it, but kinesiology would be the type of field that I would go into.
What is the most important thing you learned from your parents?
They’ve taught me a lot of important things, but I don’t know, to follow your heart. That’s what my parents always told me, especially in gymnastics. They always wanted me to be happy in doing something I loved, and that’s what gymnastics did for me, and it led me to the Olympics.
What is your favorite music and rock star?
I love Rascal Flatts — country music. My favorite rock star, I don’t know that I have one.
How do you balance friends and gymnastics?
Well, I have a lot of friends in gymnastics, so that helps. I always went to public school, so that gave me a place to kind of go and have friends and get away from gymnastics.
How do you spend your free time?
I like to go to movies, I like to hang out with friends. I go to the lake or go swimming. Anything.
How did you get interested in the Ronald McDonald charity and the Make A Wish Foundation?
I got involved in Ronald McDonald through some family friends and stuff, but it’s such a good foundation. They do such great things for hospitals, kids and families and giving them a place to go away from the tragedy they’re facing. But also Make A Wish: just being able to work with kids. Light up their face a little bit. It’s a touching thing.