CALUMET CITY | It probably wasn't as tough as a double-twisting double layout, but gymnastics champion Shawn Johnson did some good deeds Monday in Calumet City.
The Olympic gold medalist and triple world champion passed out free packages of Crest toothpaste to needy local residents at First Baptist Church. Johnson's appearance was a bonus for those who came to the church for free food from the Producemobile of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Her participation was part of a program by Crest toothpaste to help promote good nutrition and dental health among the nation's needy. Crest donated $1 million to Feeding America, an umbrella group for food pantries that include the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Feeding America spokeswoman Vicki Chavez said.
The event in Calumet City was Johnson's first appearance as part of the toothpaste program and as a spokesman for Crest. She hopes to raise awareness of the importance of good oral health among low-income people.
"I love it. It's an honor to be here and to help out," Johnson said. "It's really rewarding to use my profile from the Olympics to make a difference and to have an impact on people's lives."
Johnson was joined by dozens of volunteers and students from Thornton Fractional North High School who helped provide free fruit and vegetables to 125 families who were referred by social service agencies.
Johnson burst onto the world gymnastics scene last year with gold medals at the U.S. Nationals, the Pan American Games, World Championships and other major meets. Going into the Beijing Olympics, Johnson was ranked as the world's top gymnast in women's all-around.
At the Summer Olympics, she captured a gold medal in balance beam to go with silver medals in all-around and floor exercise. Johnson also led the U.S. female gymnasts to silver in the team competition.
"It was the Olympics, so everything was amazing," Johnson said. "The all-around meant more to me than anything else, because that's my big event. It was an overwhelming, emotional roller coaster. But you can never forget that you're representing your country, and I did the best that I could."
After the Beijing games, Johnson joined a 40-city exhibition tour of top Olympic gymnasts. She is starting to get back into her training routine for the next round of competitions.
"I've been taking things one day at a time, so there hasn't been much time to think about new goals and dreams and aspirations. Every day is a new challenge. I'm just trying to graduate from high school now," Johnson said.
Johnson, who turns 17 in January, lives more like a normal American teenager than most top-flight gymnasts. Instead of moving into a gymnastics training facility and taking classes from tutors, she goes to high school in her native Des Moines, Iowa.
"I try to have as much of a normal lifestyle as possible," she said. "I go to public high school. That helps me to enjoy the sport without burning out."