A Conversation with Olympic Gold Medalist Shannon Miller

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I had the good fortune to interview former Olympic Medalist Champion Shannon Miller. As the most decorated US gymnast of the Olympic Games, I was a little nervous but as it turns out I had no reason to be. I found Shannon to be very down to earth and approachable. We ended up having a great conversation about her Olympic career, the challenges the sport faces now, her own health challenges, and the good work Shannon is currently doing. You can listen to the show   wherever you listen to your podcasts and music: iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or Spreaker or scroll down and read our transcribed conversation.

Thank you so much Shannon. I know many of our listeners and readers will be as inspired as I was!

Debra DiPietro:                 Welcome to Courageously Go, where we will venture into place we’ve been afraid to go. Women of the world, we are going to start a movement, a movement towards courage. Hello everybody. Thank you for being here. My name is Debbie DiPietro. I am the host of Courageously Go. For some many years, I had the people pleasing syndrome, and just didn’t really speak up for myself a whole, lot.

Debra DiPietro:                 Now I’m at a great time in life. I just, am here to facilitate a global conversation about courage. We are finding over the weeks of doing this show is that, as women, we are really part of a supportive global community. We all share challenges and celebrations, and we just get wonderful guests on each week. I’m just thrilled that you’re here.

Debra DiPietro:                 Today, we have a special guest. I’m going to be introducing her in just a moment, because I believe she really, truly embodies the whole spirit of Courageously Go. I put together the essential truths of Courageously Go. If any of this resonates with any of you out there, you are in the right place. Here we go. I choose courage. I use my voice. I embrace the new. I welcome challenge. I grow. I am a woman of action. I go.

Debra DiPietro:                 On that note, I am going to introduce our very special successful guest. Her name is Shannon Miller. Shannon Miller remains the most decorated Olympic gymnast in American history, with seven Olympic medals. Two gold, two silver, three bronze. She is the only female athlete to inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame, twice. Once for individual, 2006 and them team medal, 2008. Shannon has won an astounding 59 international and 49 national competition medals. Over half of these have been gold.

Debra DiPietro:                 She is the first gymnast to win two world, all around titles. Her tally of five medals, two silver and three bronze at the 1992 Olympics, was the most medals won by a US athlete in any sport. At the 1996 games, she led the Magnificent Seven to the US women’s first ever team gold. For the first time for any American gymnast, she captured gold on the balance beam.

Debra DiPietro:                 After retiring from Olympic competition, Shannon received her undergraduate degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship from the University of Houston and her law degree from Boston College. Shannon remains a part of the gymnastics and Olympic communities as an analyst and commentator. Now retired from competition, Shannon has moved from Olympic athlete, to advocate for the health and wellness of women and children. Shannon launched her company, Shannon Miller Lifestyle, health and fitness for women, in July, of 2010. She continues to travel the country as a highly sought after motivational speaker and advocate for the health and wellness of women and children.

Debra DiPietro:                 In January, of 2011, Shannon was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. She had a baseball sized tumor removed successfully and followed up with an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. Shannon has remained open and public about her diagnosis and treatment, and continues to empower women to make their health a priority. Shannon is currently cancer free, and continues to be a strong advocate for early detection, awareness research, and survivorship. Shannon’s book, It’s Not About Perfect, competing for my country and fighting for my life, is her inspirational memoir written to encourage and empower others to break through and overcome their own personal challenges. Shannon, and her husband John, have two children. Son Rocco and daughter, Sterling. Shannon Miller, welcome to Courageously Go.

Shannon Miller:                Thank you so much. What a big introduction. Thank you.

Debra DiPietro:                 Well, you’re just one of our most accomplished guests here on the show. I’m just so honored and humbled and so excited to have you.

Shannon Miller:                Well, thank you.

Debra DiPietro:                 I wish we had two hours with you. We just have so much we could talk about, right? Why don’t we start off, of course with your Olympic career. Gymnastics, ever since … I’m a little, bit older than you, but I’ll never forget Nadia in 1976 in Montreal. I was 10 years old. After she scored all those perfect 10’s, I was hooked. Gymnastics has always, just been my favorite sport to watch on Olympics. Let’s hear a little, bit about your career. I know you started at a young age. Even Oklahoma, is that right?

Shannon Miller:                I grew up and trained in Oklahoma. I just kind of fell into the sport. There was no design to it. My parents weren’t Olympians or anything. My sister and I we liked to try to do flips. Usually that was on the furniture. My parents finally decided, we needed to do some of that in a safer place, where we weren’t ruining their furniture or bouncing off the back yard trampoline. Of course that long before there were nets and pads over the springs and all the safety. If you bounced off, you just kind of went flying across the yard.

Shannon Miller:                They just called a few gyms around our area. We just went to the first one that called back. That’s kind of how I started. I just started in a little class, a recreational class. I fell in love. I just loved the challenge of doing somersaults or the splits, or whatever it was, I just loved going in there. There was always something new to learn and something more you could try. After that, my sister decided she wanted to go onto swimming. Up into that point, I’d always followed her. Anything she wanted to do I was gonna do it. She was older than me. At that point I decided, “No. I’m just really gonna stick with this gymnastics thing.”

Debra DiPietro:                 Did you know pretty early on that you were going to be on the competitive track with it, that this was just really something you wanted to do?

Shannon Miller:                No. I really didn’t.

Debra DiPietro:                 No? Okay.

Shannon Miller:                Everything in my career, just kind of fell into place. Like I said, I started when I was five. I didn’t start competing until I was nine years old, which in today’s terms, people think, “Oh my goodness, that’s so late.” At the time, my gym was only recreational. They had no team at all. You didn’t go to competitions. You trained and then usually we’d go to a local parade. That’s where we would show people what we did.

Shannon Miller:                Around the age of nine our coach came to us and said, “Look. Our gym really just isn’t able to handle a competitive team. I know there’s a few of you that would like to kind of do that. Here are a few gyms that I’ve researched. I kind of know the coaches. You might wanna try out there,” which looking back, I mean, what a huge, huge thing that was, for a coach and gym owner, to say, “Look. I can’t help you any further. I’m gonna let you go, not only let you go, but I’m going to help you find another gym in our area that can help you succeed in what you wanna do.”

Shannon Miller:                I mean, that’s just a huge, huge thing and a compliment to him as a coach, and as a father, and a gym owner. We went to a couple of them, with some of my friends. We kind of, what you call, try out. You just kind of see if you like the gym, see if it works. One of them called, Dynamo Gymnastics, was with Steve Nunno. We just … There was something that clicked with us. I ended up starting at his gym with, kind of, four of my friends. He was my coach ever since.

Debra DiPietro:                 Wow. What a career. I can picture crystal clear, Atlanta in 1996 and the Magnificent Seven team. You girls … I can just picture this image of you standing there, all of you. Tell us maybe a little, bit about, what it’s like to be at the Olympics, and be in competition. What is that? It just must be such an amazing, tremendous thing to have that kind of dream that you’ve worked so hard for, come true for you. I’d love to hear from your perspective. I think we all would.

Photo Credit: JOHN MOTTERN/AFP/Getty Images)

Shannon Miller:                It is. It’s really amazing. My first Olympics was in 1992 in Barcelona. I had, kind of just grown up. I had not thought, “Oh, I wanna be an olympian.” Really, I wasn’t young and thought, “Oh, I want to go to the Olympics. I wanna win a gold medal.” In fact, I’m not sure you would have ever heard the words, “I want to win a gold medal ever come out of my mouth.” It would have been, “I’d like to represent my country,” as a national team member, and then internationally competing. I just started doing that. I started to move up the ranks by competing at the state meet, and then regionals and nationals.

Shannon Miller:                I made the national team, competed some internationally, and then actually broke my elbow, dislocated and broke my elbow about 10 weeks, before the 1992 Olympic trials. At that point, it was, “Am I gonna have to wait another four years to try again,” which is a lifetime for gymnasts. Most don’t do two Olympics. That was a big turning point, a big lesson learned for me of just, give it 100%, give it all you’ve got and whatever happens, happens. I ended up making that team.

Shannon Miller:                For me, competing at my first Olympics was not only such a great thing to be able to compete for your country, but I wasn’t even supposed to be on that team. To walk away with medals and just that feeling that, you were able to go out and represent, so much more than yourself, it was just such an amazing feeling. And then, to kind of contract with coming back in 1996, at 19 years old, understanding what the Olympics is all about.

Shannon Miller:                Walking into the Georgia Dome, competing on home soil, walking into the arena with 40,000 screaming people and this sea of red, white, and blue and the chants of USA, and all of that love and support that you feel right there in the arena was just so incredible. Of course, we wanted to make sure we brought home the medal that night. It really was. It was just this sense of support, that you could see and feel right there.

Debra DiPietro:                 Just awesome. Do you become really close with those teammates of yours? Are you still in touch with them? Are you guys good friends? What’s it like, when you’re that age and you’re doing this together? In a way, you’re competing as a team, but you’re also competing as individual athletes, right? What’s the dynamic? I’m kind of curious what the dynamic’s like.

Shannon Miller:                It is. It’s very different, because it’s not a sport where you’re competing directly with someone else.

Debra DiPietro:                 Right.

Shannon Miller:                It’s more like you’re competing against the equipment. You’re competing against yourself, your own score.

Debra DiPietro:                 Right.

Shannon Miller:                It’s not like other sports, where the team is all on the floor together, and what you do affects the team right then and there. I always understood that the best thing I could do for my team, is get the very highest score I could, right? At the end of the day, the highest score that I can get, that is gonna help the team the most. I was always … The commentators would always call me stoic. That was kind of my game face. It was just, I needed to put my blinders on. I needed to focus on my routines and my skills, and really just kind of buckle down and make sure that I was doing the very best I could and that would help the team. That’s kind of how I looked at it.

Shannon Miller:                One of the things that was so different about that time is, we did not have a centralized training facility. We just trained at our gyms in our cities, and with our personal coaches, and then we showed up at the meet, to compete as a team. It’s very different … I was very different than it is now, where the girls, kind of train together a little, bit more often. We did have the tours. That’s where we really got to know each other. After the 1996 Olympics, we went on tour for almost a year and a half. 99 cities …

Debra DiPietro:                 Wow.

Shannon Miller:                across the country, traveling on a bus together. You really get to know someone traveling, in a bus together. We have bonded over those experiences, and really just, kind of have that innate bond of, similar childhood and similar focus and similar goals, and then all of that. That’s been really fun to kind of watch each other grow up, and kind of see what we do outside of the sport.

Debra DiPietro:                 That’s good, cause you’re all, you’re so young when you first get started with it. Yeah. Do you have a favorite competition that’s …

Shannon Miller:                Gosh. I think the expectation is always the games is as a favorite and it is.

Debra DiPietro:                 Yeah.

Shannon Miller:                Absolutely. World competition’s not always interesting. One that I always looked to, it was in Catania, Italy. I was maybe, 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was one of my first international competitions. That time you get to put on the red, white, and blue, USA across your back and you get to march out onto the floor in a foreign country. I was this little girl from Oklahoma. I mean, I had barely been out of the state, much less out of the country. It was just always amazing to me.

Shannon Miller:                At the end of the night, I had actually, finally stayed on all four events, which was nice. I kept falling. Usually I fell at almost every competition, which, most people don’t talk about that portion of it. It was true, because I was always trying to do scales. This competition I finally stayed on all four events. I ended up with my name atop the leader board. I had won this big meet.

Shannon Miller:                It was the first time I got to walk up on that first place podium. I didn’t really know what to do. I was just kind of standing there. No one was speaking English. I was just kind of trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. They gave me my flowers and the trophy and all of that. And then, the arena got completely silent. I was thinking, “Am I supposed to walk down? What is the protocol? No one taught me this. I’ve never done this before.” Right then, the music started. It was my national anthem.

Debra DiPietro:                 Wow.

Shannon Miller:                I got to see the American flag being raised. That was the first time I realized … Of course, my coach went over this with me afterwards. It was the first time I realized that, they only play the national anthem of the winner. I mean, I’m 11, or 12 years old. I don’t know any of this. It was just, such that moment that I knew, “This is what I wanna do, and I wanna do it forever. I wanna do it on the biggest stage possible, which is the Olympics.” For me, that was my moment, when I realized, yes, I really wanna be an Olympian.

Debra DiPietro:                 I have goosebumps just listening to you. Do you ever miss competition?

Shannon Miller:                I do. You know, we talk about this all the time, with some of my teammates, and friends from the [inaudible 00:16:43]. We all miss competition. You don’t miss the training that goes into the competition. There’s something in you, that’s always going to be competitive, and in that way, it’s that you look for other outlets for that competitiveness. There is a point, and there was a point for me in my life, where I realized, “Yeah, I can do all of it in my head, but my body doesn’t wanna do that anymore.”

Debra DiPietro:                 Something about getting … Yes. Well, I would be remiss, if I didn’t turn this conversation, just at least for a moment into a little more serious topic. I know that you’re still involved with the Olympic committee and keeping these young girls safe. We were just watching 60 Minutes recently, and of course, Aly Raisman has been very brave in speaking up. We’ve been following the story of Larry Nassar and the girls. What could you share with us, Shannon? What’s going on with the community there and keeping these girls safe?

Shannon Miller:                Yeah. Absolutely. It’s such an important topic. I come from a little, bit of an odd place. While I was a gymnast for so many years, I’m almost more of an outsider at this point. I get to have that perspective. I remain involved with the Olympic movement, and gymnastics are an analyst and commentator. Every four years, I get to go to the Olympics. I call it work. I get to commentate, which is wonderful and it keeps me involved.

Shannon Miller:                I love the sport. I love how much the sport has done for me in a, positive way. I want athletes to have that experience and not just gymnastics, but we’ve seen the abuse issues coming out with … I mean, almost any sport that you can think of. It’s horrific. As a mother of two small children, I began to ask myself. You get upset. You get angry and you get frustrated, and you wonder what you can do.

Shannon Miller:                I started to really, really think about and reach out to folks and just say, “What do we need? What can really change the game? What can change the conversation in a way that allows youth sports to be, and continue to be a positive impact in young lives and certainly as they move into adulthood.” I think of the incredible lessons that I learned through youth sports. Yet, you have people thinking … As a mom again, I think the same thing. Well, do I really want my child to do this sport or that sport, because of these issues. That’s what makes me sad, is that people might take their kids out of sports, out of physical activity. Sports should really be a place where they can be safe.

Shannon Miller:                One of the things I’ve started working on, one has been … It’s coming up on, well a year now, is working with the Monique Burr Foundation, for child safety. What they do and what they’ve been doing for over a decade, is a comprehensive abuse prevention curriculum. In fact, just a couple of months ago, they have received their certification. They are the only evidence based comprehensive abuse program in the United States. They provide this curriculum for K through 12.

Shannon Miller:                I was really excited to join the board, several months ago. I’m co-chairing along with Donna Orender, who’s also in our Jacksonville area, but as people that know Donna, who is just an amazing advocate for women and for female athletes. We are the athlete safety matter component. This is taking the evidence-based curriculum and applying that to all youth sports. We’re really excited about that. Some really exciting announcements that are coming next month, with regard to that program. That’s a way I feel like I can help really change the dynamic.

Shannon Miller:                It does start with athletes. It’s important to educate adults on what they should or should not be doing. The fact is, adults failed these women. They failed them. Aly spoke of this as well. If these athletes had understood who the safe adults were, how to identify red flags, when and why they can speak up, and if someone’s not listening, how they can go to someone else and speak up.

Shannon Miller:                If that gets ingrained in a child, through youth sports, at an early age, they will be empowered with the tools they need to protect themselves, and not just rely on others. It’s a really important thing. In fact, one of the statistics I always like to put out there. It was so shocking to me, but 95% of abuse can be prevented through education. That is a huge statistic.

Debra DiPietro:                 Wow.

Shannon Miller:                For me, I keep that in my office. I look at it every day. It’s so important to remember that education is, not the only aspect that needs to change, certainly. It is a true key factor in changing that dynamic, not just for now, but for generations to come.

Debra DiPietro:                 Oh. Well, thank you for being involved and being an advocate for these young girls and these future generations. Does this organization that you’re chair on, have a website? I think our listeners would be interested in that.

Shannon Miller:                Yes. Absolutely. We just changed it, so I wanna make sure I get you the right one. Yes. It’s MBF, so Monique Burr Foundation, MBFpreventioneducation.org.

Debra DiPietro:                 Sounds great. Thank you.  I wish we had an hour or two more. We’re gonna run out of time fast. You were such a busy woman after you stopped competing. I know you’ve been a broadcaster, and analyst, and so many things. I know you got your college degrees and went to law school. We have a few minutes. Why don’t we … It sounds like you’re pretty excited about this Shannon Miller Lifestyle. Why don’t we heat about that some, so you can share that while we have a few minutes left with you. Whatever ] you wanna share about. Whatever you’re excited about.

Shannon Miller:                Well, that’s actually my day job. That’s what I spend 90% of my time doing, is my company that’s Shannon Miller Enterprises. We focus on what we call, Shannon Miller Lifestyle. That is, helping women make their health a priority, whatever way we can do that. We do focus on nutrition, and fitness. I film 10 minute fitness videos, so that if you’ve just got 10 minutes, you just click on … It’s on my YouTube channel. You can just do 10 minutes of fitness.

Shannon Miller:                We also do a lot with making sure that you see your doctor each year, or each appointment. We don’t skip those. Really changing how you think about your health. The fact is, if we’re not healthy, we can’t be here for all those that depend on us. I learned that, as you mentioned in the opening. I learned that significantly when I went through my own cancer diagnosis with ovarian cancer, back in 2011. Our son was about 14 months old at the time.

Shannon Miller:                For me, it was that shocking realization that, at this point, if I don’t focus on my health, if I don’t kind of get in and do the work, my son may not have a mom. I need to really do everything I can to make sure that I’m healthy. Long after treatment, I try to  do every day. You try to remind yourself that as much as possible. What we do with our company is we partner with other organizations, other companies. We put a lot of information on our website, which is very. It’s Shannonmiller.com.

Debra DiPietro:                 Okay.

Shannon Miller:                We make sure that we continue to reinforce, whether it’s through our social media channels, through the website, through our partnerships and programs, that your health is not just fitness and nutrition. It’s also me time, it’s sleep, it’s getting to your doctor’s appointments, it’s focusing on how you listen to your body, and how you speak up about issues that you might be having.

Debra DiPietro:                 I think that’s a great note to end on. Unfortunately, we are just about out of time. I am so thankful that you chose to spend time with us Shannon. It’s just been a delight speaking with you. I wish I had more time with you. We could just talk … We live in the same town. We’re gonna have to do lunch or something. It’s just been a pleasure. I thank you for all the good work you’re doing out there. We sure enjoyed watching you over the years, and just a tremendous thanks. Thank you so much for being such a good model for the girls in our community.

Shannon Miller:                I appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Debbie with Shannon Miller Jacksonville Car Show 2015

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