7-Time Olympic Medalist and Ovarian Cancer Survivor Shannon Miller Shares an Important Reminder to Celebrate the Things We Can Do

[NCSD guest blog post by Shannon Miller]

Shannon Miller

I’m often asked if I still do gymnastics. Well, yes and no.

I do love a handstand! I do cartwheels to make my kids laugh. But I love the feeling of being upside down, of doing what I loved for so long.

I’ve posted on Instagram portions of a show I was asked to host a couple of years ago. The show was to be a mix of dance, gymnastics and music with a focus of raising money and awareness for women’s cancers. So, of course, I said YES!

Then the call took an interesting turn. “Uh, so we really need someone to perform a beam routine during the show…” I immediately began thinking about what current gymnasts would be a good fit for the show when… “is this something you could do? It would just be a short balance beam routine….and maybe a little bit of a floor routine…” LOLOLOLOLOL!!
I thought they were completely joking; I’m pretty sure I actually laughed out loud. I was 40 years old! I do my best to be active, but I know what it takes to be a gymnast. It takes muscles that I’ve forgotten I even had.
When the laughing stopped and I realized they were serious, I was upfront that this was not likely something I could do and do well. I wanted the show to be fantastic for viewers and wasn’t sure I could do it.

Yet, even as the conversation moved on to other aspects of the show, I could tell there was a part of me thinking it through. How empowering would it be, after my battle with ovarian cancer and all that my body has been through…surgery, chemo…to then be able to perform any skills at all?
I knew by the time I clicked END that, for better or worse, I was completely on board.

The next four weeks I spent my workouts focusing on strength and flexibility. It was slow going for sure. But I felt stronger each day.
All in all, this two-minute piece that aired in October of 2017, became this incredible moment in time for me that brought together every aspect of my life now and my previous athletic life. And it was all for an amazing cause.
I write about this event from two years ago because I think of it often. I think about it when I’m scared to try something new, when I’m not sure I have what it takes, when I want to feel good about what is possible when we work hard and believe in ourselves. Yes, it was just a cartwheel, just a routine. But in reality, it was so much more.

In 2011, going through chemo I was barely able to get out of bed most days. I could not have imagined having the stamina to dance and perform for two solid minutes! I lost strength and muscle in my body and gained neuropathy in my hands. Over a year after finishing chemo, I suddenly realized what a toll my body had taken. One afternoon, I was running after my son in the back yard when only a few steps in my legs simply gave out and I fell to the ground. I will never forget that moment. I was stunned. It was that instant when I realized my body had become so weak that I couldn’t keep up with my three-year-old child.

Instead of making 2011, a marker for things I could not do, I look at 2017 as a reset of things that I CAN do. How I’ve gained strength and stamina and more importantly the willingness to try things that scare me a bit. And I owe much of that renewed confidence to so many incredible people who have inspired me and shown me exactly what it means to get back up, to keep going, to try something new or something old. To not be embarrassed or uncertain. Rather, to just get up and go and do and try whatever you can because each time we do that it is a celebration of life.

I am thankful for survivors that have shown me the way and help me through the tough times. I hope that in some small way I can be that support for others. Let’s help each other to make every moment count and never stop fighting.


Shannon Miller is a mother of two, ovarian cancer survivor, author, motivational speaker, one of the most decorated Olympic gymnasts, and the only female to be inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame – twice! Her tally of five medals at the 1992 Olympics was the most medals won by a US athlete in any sport. She has a law degree from Boston College, is a commentator and analyst for the gymnastics and Olympic communities, and launched her company devoted to helping women make their health a priority. 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. Follow her at Twitter and Instagram @shannonmiller96, Facebook and Youtube at @shannonmillerofficial and at shannonmiller.com.