When Shawn Johnson announced she was retiring from the competitive world of gymnastics earlier this month, citing a severe knee injury she suffered in 2010, she set the sports world abuzz. Only a few weeks earlier she was still planning on making a bid for the 2012 Olympic games (in fact, we had just interviewed her about her training plans). Now, this past weekend at the Team USA gymnastics trials, while the other girls were out on the mat stretching and warming up, she sat alone in a luxury suite on the fourth floor of the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., watching through the glass pane. We had the opportunity to meet with 20-year-old world champion (who's also been working with Procter & Gamble on their Thank You, Mom campaign) for 15 minutes and talk about retirement, fitness, and what's next.
SHAPE: Let's talk about your retirement. How did you come to the decision to formally retire?
Shawn Johnson (SJ): It was a decision that made itself, really. Realistically, I had to sit down and look at everything and measure everything. Not the way that I wanted to, but ultimately I ran out of time. I just wasn't ready. Compared to the other girls, I wasn't up to their standard. My knee wasn't allowing me to push it any harder. We just had to take a step back and let someone else take my place and really understand and accept that it was over.
SHAPE: What kind of advice would you give someone who's going through a similar situation? Maybe someone who's not an Olympic athlete, but is recovering from an injury that's preventing them from doing something they've always loved?
SJ: Um...I'd say you need to take the time to kind of cope with it and go through the hard part of it. But you also need to embrace it and accept change. Try new things. Something my mom taught me when I was little is that everything happens for a reason. Retiring was scary and it was tough to give up gymnastics, but so many great opportunities have come from it that I never expected. And those wouldn't have happened had I not accepted my injury as a way to try something new.
SHAPE: What kind of stuff are you doing to stay in shape now?
SJ: No gymnastics at all anymore! I fell in love with running, and I finally have time to do it now. I ran a half marathon, which was fun. Well, it wasn't really a half marathon; it was the Dam Dam half marathon in Des Moines, Iowa, and it was 12.6 miles. I love yoga and Pilates. I'm not allowed to do anything high impact because of my knee yet, so things like running, elliptical, swimming, things like that.
SHAPE: What would we find on your workout playlist if we looked at your iPod?
SJ: Hmm, it changes on a daily basis. Right now, a lot of country. I'm a country music-type person. I love the Zac Brown Band, Hunter Hayes, Carrie Underwood, and Miranda Lambert.
SHAPE: How about food? What are some of the healthy foods you eat every day?
SJ: I love lean meats like chicken, turkey. I'm obsessed with sushi and fish in general. I eat a lot of veggies and hummus. I try to follow a Paleo diet-type plan.
SHAPE: Do you have any foods you won't give up?
SJ: I eat freakishly healthy. My splurges are like dried fruit. I love dried pineapple. Or, have you ever had a chocolate-covered acai berry? They're so good! Or Nutella. It's banned from my house because I would just eat it. Have you ever seen the Pinterest photo of the IVs, only instead of fluid, it's Nutella? That's me. (You can see this pin here, it's pretty funny!)
SHAPE: Has it always been easy for you to eat healthy? Or did you find it was something you had to ease into?
SJ: Up until I made the elite level, I was the girl who had a stack of pancakes every morning for breakfast. And I ate burgers, and you know, not unhealthy, but not the way I do now. I just had to figure out what worked for me as I competed, and I soon found that having a shortstack of pancakes in my stomach doesn't feel awesome. I started working with a nutritionist and became much more interested in nutrition as I got older.
SHAPE: If we looked inside your gym bag, what would we find?
SJ: If you looked inside my gym bag, you'd find..hmm...a change of clothes, running shoes, resistance bands, a jump rope...I think that's it. Oh, and my arm bands for running.
SHAPE: What's your No. 1 workout secret?
SJ: Change it up. I get so bored, so easily, and I constantly have to do something different otherwise it wouldn't work out. Adding variety keeps working out interesting.
SHAPE: Besides the fact that you were a professional athlete, what motivates you to get out of bed and put in a workout on those days when you feel like you just can't?
SJ: Right now, the thought of being in a bikini! That's definitely motivation. Sometimes it is really hard to get up in the morning and put in a workout, but that feeling of pride you have when you're done just helps you to feel better about yourself.
SHAPE: What's the best healthy living advice someone's ever given you?
SJ: Do what makes you happy. Whatever it is, do it every day. If you're loving what you're doing and having fun, I think that's living healthy.
SHAPE: You're going to London with Procter & Gamble for the Olympics as a correspondent. How are you feeling about being behind the scenes, being the one asking the questions?
SJ: I'm really excited! I'm a really curious person, so I can't wait to ask all the other athletes you know, what they're eating for breakfast and things like that. It's going to be a fun experience.
SHAPE: What's next for you? Where do you see yourself in the long-term future?
SJ: Um, college is the only thing I'm really set on. Fall of 2013, I'll go to college and finally check that off my list. As for anything else, I have no idea. It changes on a daily basis.