MUKILTEO — In the summer of 2008, Shawn Johnson realized her childhood dream of competing at the Olympics and winning four medals, including one gold medal.
What happened afterward was even more than she ever could have imagined.
Johnson, who grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, was part of the United States women’s gymnastics team at the Olympic Games in Beijing. She came away with a gold medal in the balance beam and silver medals in team, floor exercise and all-around.
“It was a dream come true,” Johnson said Thursday during a visit to Snohomish County to promote the Pacific Rim Championships, April 8-10 at Everett’s Xfinity Arena. “I’d dreamt it my entire life. Going to the Olympics and experiencing everything that I did, and walking away with four medals, it was the perfect experience.”
Johnson had thoughts of trying again at the 2012 Games in London, but an injury prompted her retirement. Still, what happened in 2008 “was the biggest life-changing moment I could’ve experienced,” she said. “It was a six-year whirlwind career afterward, bouncing around the world, going on (television) shows and doing really strange things. It’s nothing anybody could’ve prepared me for, but it’s been a blessing.”
She appeared on the TV program “Celebrity Apprentice,” which she did not particularly enjoy — she was fired by Donald Trump — and “Dancing with the Stars,” which she very much enjoyed. Johnson partnered with dancer Mark Ballas in 2009 and the duo ended up winning the competition.
“Outside of the Olympics,” said the 24-year-old Johnson, “that’s been my favorite experience. I loved it and I’d do it every season if I could.”
But the best part of her post-Olympics life was meeting football player Andrew East in 2012. Last summer, after Johnson threw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs baseball game, East dropped to one knee and proposed with the entire Wrigley Field crowd looking on. The couple is planning an April 16 wedding.
In a nice twist, East recently signed with the Seattle Seahawks. A long snapper, he will try to make the team during training camp and the preseason schedule, which means the couple will be spending July and August — and, they hope, much longer — back in the Seattle area.
“I’m from Iowa, so I never was partial to an NFL team,” Johnson said. “I was an Iowa Hawkeye fan. But now I’m his fan.”
Back in 2006, Johnson competed as a 14-year-old junior at the Pacific Rim Championships, held that year in Honolulu. She won four gold medals and a silver medal.
The biennial event “is a huge deal,” she said, “and especially for all the girls that are competing in it. Most of them are kind of being tested because it’s the last look before they’re named to the team.
“It’s kind of the girls’ job to reassure their countries’ selection committees that they’re good enough to be on the Olympic team. So it’s a big deal and a big pressure situation, and a lot of eyes will be watching them.”
And for the fans, she added, “it’s Olympic-level (competition), and especially in the year of the Olympics. Every girl there is vying for a spot on the Olympic team, so what you’ll see there is what you’ll see in the Olympics.”
The full U.S. team coming to Everett has not been determined, but one member of the women’s team has been announced — three-time world all-around champion Simone Biles (2013-15), a gold medal favorite for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
When Biles competes, Johnson said, “you’re seeing things that you never would’ve dreamed of with women’s gymnastics. I watch her and I’m literally dumbfounded.”
In addition to Biles, three members of the American squad that won the team gold medal in London will be bidding for spots on this year’s team. Among them Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around gold medal in 2012.
In women’s gymnastics, Johnson said, the Americans have “a tried and true system going on right now, and I feel like the girls that we’re training are the best in the world. … I feel like we’ve got an incredibly strong team.”
With the Olympics just a few months away, “we don’t know what’s going on to happen with the other countries,” she said. “But I would expect nothing less (than more gold medals for the U.S.).”