I can remember every detail about Beijing: the smell, the lights, the crowd. I remember Nastia Liukin go up and compete and give a beautiful routine. I remember looking at her score and it was one point higher than the highest score I had conjured up in my mind. It was impossible for me to get a gold medal. I remember my heart just sinking. The entire world is being told.
Do I even go out and compete? Do I just throw it? I remember thinking, well, if you can’t win the gold medal at least prove to the world that you deserved it. I started my routine and gave the best routine in my entire life. I've never felt lighter in my life. I felt on top of the world. I remember seeing 50,000 people on their feet giving me a standing ovation.
I told everybody it was the biggest honor of my life, but, really, it crushed my heart. I remember being given the silver medal on the podium. The person who did it gave me a hug and told me, "I’m sorry."
It was really strange for me, because I was being given the silver medal at the Olympic Games and being told, "I’m sorry." It was validation in my heart that I had failed. I got two more silvers after that and then finally got the gold. But, then, once I got the gold, it didn’t matter. I felt like the damage was done.
I would go to school everyday and every single person would ask me about gymnastics. Or watching me on TV or reading an interview. Every news article in the entire world said that I would come home with four Olympic gold medals.
I’d given 200% that day in competition and laid it all out on the floor. I feel like I failed the world. I felt like since the world saw me as nothing else. So if I failed as a gymnast, than I failed as a human being. I was sixteen years old living in a fish bowl. Every single person and their mother was applauding and congratulating me and also critiquing me because I was on the world stage. It was now about what I wore and how I looked.
Shawn went on to become the youngest contestant in the history of Dancing with the Stars.
I was growing up in the limelight. I was sixteen years old and a muscular gymnast and I was not even 4' 8". I was dancing next to girls who were supermodels. And I remember, at sixteen and seventeen, from Dancing with the Stars, reading all these blogs and newspaper articles and headlines, people criticized my weight, my appearance, my personality, and my character.
It affected me, immensely. It drove me to try and change everything about myself. Trying to act like someone and look like someone you will never be, it is exhausting and draining. Feeling like the world doesn't accept you for who you are hurts your heart.
I felt like all of that compiled into one big moment. It was this 2012 comeback and I had all these sponsors. It was six months before the actual Olympic trials. I was hitting my all-time low. I was spending over forty hours per week training. I was constantly trying to lose weight but it wasn’t happening. My parents wanted me to go see a doctor because they thought I was clinically depressed. I remember I was losing hair, wasn’t able to sleep, wasn’t eating properly. I was struggling with not being 16 any longer.
So for months, I just pushed myself in practice. I said if this is what will make the sponsors happy, my parents happy, my coach happy, and my team, the USA national team, happy, if this is what is right for everybody, then this is what’s right for me. I can just push through it. Everyday I came home from practice just bawling and bawling and just not having peace.
I remember walking into practice one day and getting up on the beam and standing at the edge of the beam, I looked down and to get ready to start flipping. It’s one of those moments that’s really hard to explain and I feel like a lot people understand. But, in that one moment, I feel like God was telling me, “You’ve been so distraught over this decision. And you’ve been putting yourself through all of this and your family through all of this. You’ve been afraid of disappointing a lot of people and have not been yourself. But, it’s okay follow your heart and put it behind you."
Shawn chose to retire from competitive gymnastics on June 3rd, 2012.
In that instant, I felt the entire world lift off my shoulders. In that one instant, I knew that it was going to be all okay. I was giving my heart and soul and getting to a place that I was not proud of all for that gold medal again, that I distinctly remember in 2008 not being the greatest thing in the world. And, I think its validation that there's always more. God is the answer to everything.
Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross so that when I stood up there and was given that gold medal; yes, its’ a monumental and amazing experience and wonderful thing, but it’s not the end all be all. Yes, I can work my whole life to become a CEO of a company or to make a certain amount of money or to win 12 more Olympic gold medals, but its not my purpose in life. He will always be my greatest reward and my proudest reward.