Jessie DeZiel has been Shawn Johnson’s friend since her freshman year.
By Randy York
For Nebraska junior gymnast Jessie DeZiel, last weekend was about a friend. This weekend, it’s about family. Craig and Jean DeZiel of Rogers, Minn., missed youngest daughter Jessie’s meet against Michigan last weekend in Lincoln because it was Senior Day at the University of Wisconsin-Stout for Brittany DeZiel, Jessie’s older sister.
Sunday at 2 p.m., in the renovated Bob Devaney Sports Center, Wisconsin-Stout will join Nebraska, Kentucky and Bridgeport (Conn.) in the 24th annual Master’s Classic. The meet, which will promote the Power of Pink for breast cancer awareness, has a family-like angle for Dan Kendig, too. Nebraska’s two-time National Coach of the Year received his bachelor’s degree at Kentucky and bleeds Wildcat Blue on multiple occasions, including every time third-year Kentucky Head Coach Tim Garrison wins a meet without Nebraska in it. Garrison was a Husker assistant for Kendig before becoming Kentucky’s head coach.
DeZiel certainly can relate to the power of friends and family on back-to-back weekends. At the 2011 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico, she became a good friend of Shawn Johnson, who was making a major comeback at the time in an attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The comeback didn’t work out, but a friendship was born. As the sun started to set on Johnson’s career, the sun began to rise on DeZiel, who celebrated her 18th birthday with a gold medal as the youngest member of USA’s Pan Am Team.
Shawn Johnson Becomes BTN Analyst
Johnson launched her Big Ten Network career at a recent Illinois-Iowa gymnastics dual and was supposed to be part of the announcing team at last weekend’s Nebraska-Michigan dual. Because of heavy snow in Chicago, Johnson didn’t make it to Lincoln, so former Husker Janelle Giblin filled in and did a nice job. “It was so fun to meet Shawn at Pan Am,” DeZiel said. “We became friends. When she went to a ring ceremony dance at the Naval Academy with a friend she graduated with from high school with, I went to the same event with one of his friends.”
DeZiel considers Johnson both a friend and a mentor. “Shawn’s given me some helpful tips along the way,” DeZiel said. “She’s always encouraging me to compete at the highest level. She’s always telling me I can do it. She knows because she’s been through it at a much more intense level. She knows exactly what we go through and she always seems to have the right words to get you through it.”
Kendig also has a longstanding friendship with Johnson because both are annual summer attendees at Camp Woodward in Woodward, Pa. Kendig is among the high-level coaches and Johnson leads a list of world-class gymnasts who teach and motivate at the nationally prominent summer program.
Brittany DeZiel’s Favors Shawn Johnson
Interestingly, Brittany DeZiel’s bio on the Wisconsin-Stout official athletic website lists Shawn Johnson as her role-model gymnast. A native of Des Moines, Johnson won the 2008 Olympic balance beam gold medal and earned silver medals in the team, all-around and floor exercise. The USA Gymnastics Hall-of-Famer took her first lessons at age 3 after her parents noticed her climbing cabinets and jumping off tables. At age 6, she became one of the first students in the Liang Chow School of Gymnastics in West Des Moines.
Johnson’s post-competitive career included a runner-up finish on Dancing with the Stars, even though she was by far the most technically perfect dancer in the history of the show. As someone said, Shawn Johnson had more moves than fellow competitors could even imagine. I wasn’t a regular viewer of that show, but that night was my last stand. If the immensely popular Shawn Johnson could lose to someone whose performance wasn’t even close to hers, that was enough for me. The only way DWTS will get someone like me back in the fold is the day College Football Hall-of-Famer Will Shields is invited to be part of the program. I’m not kidding. Read this N-Sider and join the campaign.
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