The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi may be winding down soon, but summer Olympian and 2008 gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson is in Philadelphia inspiring young athletes and helping to spread awareness about breast cancer.
The sixth annual Pink Invitational Gymnastics tournament kicked off at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Friday and runs through the weekend. About 2,800 gymnasts from Connecticut to Florida are in town to compete and raise funds for the fight against breast cancer.
“How many of you want to be in the Olympics?” said Johnson in a room of about 100 budding gymnasts. Every girl raised her hand. Johnson, who retired from gymnastics two years ago and now focuses on motivational speaking, told the girls it was especially important to have fun while competing.
Johnson became a part of the Pink Invitational because her grandmother and best friend’s mom had breast cancer. Sue Weldon, a cancer survivor and former gymnastics coach in West Chester, founded the tournament. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised go to Weldon’s foundation, Unite for Her.
Unite for Her focuses on wellness initiatives for women with cancer and general health for all women and girls. Weldon, who is passionate about teaching children to read nutrition labels and promote an all-natural lifestyle, is offering organic makeup and hair products, natural snacks and local farm fresh foods at the competition.
Every gymnast receives a hot-pink and gold-sparkled leotard to wear during competition.
“You have to watch when you’re videotaping to make sure it’s your kid,” joked Susan Pruss, a breast cancer survivor of seven years. She said the tournament is a great place to connect with other women, and that almost everyone she knows has been affected by cancer in some way.
Pruss remembers her daughter Isabella saying, “I’m going to do this for you, mom,” when she first competed in the tournament three years ago with about 800 other participants. Today, Pruss said she’s thrilled the event has grown by more 2,000 girls.