Ashleigh Johnson’s Olympic gold medal housed with family’s other sports mementos

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If Ashleigh Johnson wants to see her Olympic gold medal, the No. 1 goalie on the U.S. water polo team can fly to Miami and look at the family trophy case.

“My gold medal is with my mom,” Johnson said on “Distanced Training” with Jac Collinsworth. “Me and my siblings played water polo and swam together our whole lives. All of our participation swim ribbons are in this case, and my gold medal is in this case.”

Johnson is about as accomplished as it gets for a 25-year-old.

After the Rio Olympic title, she took a break from the national team to write her 80-page senior thesis at Princeton, graduating in 2017 with a psychology degree and the distinction of being the school’s career saves leader. She’s plied her trade professionally for club teams in Italy and Greece.

Back in 2016, Johnson became the first black woman to play on a U.S. Olympic water polo team. She was also the only non-Californian on the Rio roster.

Johnson was one of five children raised by a single mom who moved to South Florida from Jamaica. She learned to swim with her siblings in a backyard pool growing up on a five-acre farm property, according to NBC Miami.

So Johnson’s favorite memory from Rio should come as little surprise.

“Getting to see my family celebrate with me in the stands after we won gold,” she said. “It was actually really special for me to be able to look up after every game and before every game and see in them in the stands. … It was really cool for those two worlds to merge at the pinnacle of that season and what we trained towards that whole Olympic cycle.”

The U.S. women won every major title since the Rio Olympics and are massive favorites for Tokyo. The Olympic postponement to 2021 was difficult, knowing a within-reach Olympic repeat bid must wait another year.

“The first thing in my mind [when the Olympics were postponed] was thinking about how close we were, and that’s hard because you know you have this one goal in mind,” she said. “You have this one thing that you’re moving for, this date, that, you’re like, OK, there are a lot of things that can change, everything’s kind of to be decided, but this is the one thing that won’t change. And when it moved, it was a little disappointing. I had to kind of refocus myself, rethink our season and then move forward, but I was definitely jarred.”

MORE: Next water polo world championships get new dates

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Alex Zanardi, auto racer turned Paralympic champion, has 5-hour surgery to rebuild face after crash

Alex Zanardi
AP
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SIENA, Italy (AP) — Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi underwent a five-hour surgery Monday to reconstruct his face following a crash on his handbike last month.

It was the third major operation that Zanardi has had since he crashed into an oncoming truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19 during a relay event.

Dr. Paolo Gennaro of Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena said the operation required three-dimensional digital and computerized technology that was “made to measure” for Zanardi.

“The complexity of the case was fairly unique, although this is a type of fracture that we deal with routinely,” Gennaro said in a hospital statement.

After the surgery, Zanardi was returned to the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma.

“His condition remains stable in terms of his cardio-respiratory status and grave in terms of his neurological status,” the hospital medical bulletin read.

The 53-year-old Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago, has been on a ventilator since the crash.

Zanardi suffered serious facial and cranial trauma, and doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

Zanardi won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Last month, Pope Francis penned a handwritten letter of encouragement assuring Zanardi and his family of his prayers. The pope praised Zanardi as an example of strength amid adversity.

Shawn Johnson East shares struggles with body image, prescription drugs

Shawn Johnson
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Shawn Johnson East, a 2008 Olympic gymnastics champion, detailed past struggles with body image and prescription drugs and reflected on her eating disorder as an elite athlete, to show there is hope to others in difficult situations.

“It all started with pregnancy and having my daughter,” East, who had daughter Drew in October, said on TODAY on Monday. “I had so many people asking me questions about how did pregnancy affect you mentally and how did you get your body back after having your daughter. I couldn’t answer that without giving a greater and a larger story.”

East first went public about her undiagnosed teenage eating disorders in 2015, three years after retiring from the sport. She said she limited herself to 700 calories per day and didn’t tell her parents.

In a June YouTube video, Johnson said she also binged and purged, including while dating future husband Andrew in the mid-2010s. And that she had depression and anxiety in 2011, when she returned to competition for the first time since the Beijing Games.

“I thought it would fix all of my problems,” East said of returning to gymnastics for a 2012 Olympic bid.

When East won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, she “hit a very low spot” going through puberty on national TV. She said she gained 15 pounds after the 2008 Olympics and started taking medications and drugs “to look like I did at the Olympics.” It included fad diets, diuretics and a three-week stretch of eating nothing but raw vegetables.

“Most pain of my entire life because I couldn’t digest anything,” she said.

At some point in 2011, East began feeling burned out. She was back to eating too few calories and overtraining. An unnamed USA Gymnastics doctor prescribed her Adderall “to lose more weight, have more energy and be more successful in gymnastics.” She took “heavy doses.”

“It helped my performances, but there were massive consequences to it,” she said. “I continued to compete into 2012, where I just started to get depressed.

“I was overdosing on Adderall. I was overdosing on any medication that wouldn’t be caught by USADA.”

Adderall was a banned substance in competition without a therapeutic use exemption, but was legal outside of competition.

“I was so controlled by other people’s opinions that I wouldn’t live up to that Olympic standard that I did anything to get it back and I could never have it back,” East said. “I didn’t learn that until later on.”

East’s mental hurdles re-emerged when she had a miscarriage in 2017. She blamed herself, believing her unhealthy lifestyle in the past was a contributor.

“Our natural inclination is to say, what did I do? And what did I do wrong?” she said. “It haunted me. I felt like I had sacrificed everything for an Olympic medal to not actually get the dream I had wanted my entire life [to have a child].”

With the help of a nutritionist and therapist and her husband, she conquered the demons through her 2019 pregnancy and childbirth.

“Having gone through a whole pregnancy and knowing that I felt confident through the whole thing, I feel like I’ve climbed Everest,” she said.

MORE: Why Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson went 8 years without talking

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