poetry • art • marriage • momhood • faith

Beaming for Shawn

Nastia Liukin, Dana Torres, and of course, Michael Phelps — just a few of the incredible American Olympians with awe-inspiring stories. But as moving and amazing as their paths to Olympic medals might be, the one that has touched my heart most has to be that of Shawn Johnson.

Though I’m no where near being any sort of Olympian, and anyone who knows me personally knows I am anything but graceful — my sister got my share of those genes — there’s just something about Shawn’s silver “rut” that I could identify with. Throughout grade school and high school, I managed one second place finish after another, from PTA Cultural Arts contests to being chosen as an “alternate” for Governor’s School to my graduation as salutatorian. And even as my “little” sister made her own way through school, I came to feel that really, she was better than I as well, in terms of the “importance” of her degree and the degree of her faith, among other things.

Don’t misunderstand, I was proud of my red ribbons (this was a public school system — there were no silver medals to be won). And I did manage to win a blue ribbon here and there. But to me, where it really counted, it felt that I would never be better than second best. I can’t tell you how hard I cried when I wasn’t chosen for Governor’s School. As sad as it is, it still makes me sick to my stomach. Likewise, in college I felt like I “copped out” by changing my degree from a BFA to a BA, backing out of so many art classes. Though I blamed my decision on a professor, I realize now that the problem was really me — whether it was a fear of failure or a simple lack of ambition.

So, enough self-psychoanalysis and back to Shawn Johnson. It seems I could have and still can learn a lot from her. All I’ve read about her has mentioned just how sunny and positive she has been, even in the wake of falling short of a goal. Where my “not quite first place” finishes have jaded me and eaten away my ambition, Shawn has continued to cheer on teammates while savoring her silver and setting her sights on gold for “next time.” I truly believe that it was that attitude that led her to “finally” earn her elusive gold on the balance beam today.

This morning, my 4-year-old informed me he was going to be a mail carrier when he grows up. He then asked me, “Mommy, what are you going to be when you grow up?”

It’s a valid question. Especially since I still haven’t decided. At this point in my life, I feel like I’m ready to climb a mountain (metaphorically, of course). The problem is that I don’t know which one.

But while I continue my soul searching and prayers to help me find my path, I will keep “Make it Mine” as my morning alarm ringtone, and I’ll take a tip from Shawn Johnson (and Norman Vincent Peale) and practice a bit more positive thinking.

(Photo from Getty Images)


  1. Chucka Stone Designs Chucka Stone Designs
    August 22, 2008    

    Right on! This is such a terrific post. You have identified so well with someone who is going after their dreams and it sounds to me like you will strive to achieve the same. Good for you! I don’t think you ever have to decide what you want to be when you grow up, just be and don’t let the “what” define you if you will. I definitely identify with your fear of failure, it has been a constant struggle for me most of my life. Really good at a lot of things but never great at anything in particular, I have never stuck it out long enough to find out if I could be.

    Shawn has been one of my favorite gymnasts since she hit the scene, I was just in awe watching her in nationals and the world competitions so seeing her in the Olympics felt like watching an old friend. Although I was secretly rooting for Alicia Sacramone since she is from the next town over from me, I couldn’t help but want to see Shawn go all the way to gold either. She deserved to win and on the event I used to do just made it so rewarding to watch!

    Did you ever do gymnastics? It was such a different world when we were kids, there were no double back full twisting dismounts off the beam, a round off was all that was needed for an 8.0 🙂

  2. artjewl artjewl
    August 23, 2008    

    "Did you ever do gymnastics?" Just the thought surely gives my sister & anyone else who has known me through childhood a serious case of the chuckles. No, I didn't do gymnastics, at least not beyond the attempts required in gym class. Granted, the beam was the least of my fears. The parallel bars terrified me.

    Honestly, the only thing I was good for in phys. ed. was deck hockey — I played a mean defense (and I think all the guys were afraid of "hurting little Julie," so that helped).

    Back to deciding what to be when one grows up, while I don't think you have to decide, some direction is important. What I mean is, while I feel a pull for "big things" — ie, to climb a mountain — I can't figure out which one. If you can't decide to climb Mt. Everest or Mt. Fuji, chances are you'll climb neither.

  3. sunnyday sunnyday
    August 24, 2008    

    What an insightful post you have here. And it’s charming how your son asked you that question =)

    Here’s to pursuing our dreams and finding fulfillment along the way.

  4. Ginger Ginger
    August 25, 2008    

    isn’t it crazy how being so good at something, but merely one more person may be a little better than you that one time can make you feel mediocre? you’re too hard on yourself…..i know because i recognize the anxietey and fear i occasionally grip.

    i gave up trying to fgure out what i want to do when i grow up though. i figure as long as i’m happy then i’m a success. it’s better than having an uber-career and being miserable, right?

    good luck with whatever you decide julie….you will rock whatever you decide to conquer…i have no doubt!

  5. Ginger Ginger
    August 25, 2008    

    yeah, i see a sea of typos there. this keyboard i’m working on is very rusty. sorry about that.

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torch bearing quietly

I will not act out, will not
yell or curse or slam doors,
will not make a scene -- you
do not deserve such a chance
to make an example out of me
to be proven right since you
are not. Instead, I'll stand
at this street corner, raise
my hand high and clench that
light which yet remains. It
will burn brightly, quietly,
fiercely before fading as I.

Then I'll be gone but found.

©JAC 2005

Poetry by Julie Ann Cook!

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