Shannon Miller: Keep Cheering and Keep Dreaming!
The crowd roared, flags waved and flash bulbs lit up the arena. It was the summer of 1996 and I was 19 years old. I walked into the Georgia Dome for the Olympic Women’s Gymnastics competition wondering what the next few hours would bring. But I had been here before. At age 15, I competed at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Back then I wasn’t old enough to drive, but I was donning the red, white and blue representing my country on the world stage.
I walked away from Barcelona with 3 bronze medals and 2 silver. I was .012 away from the All Around gold medal, the closest margin in history. Of course, for this little girl from Oklahoma all that mattered was my routine. That’s how it is with Olympians. Yes, we want the gold, we’re drawn to it. But more than that, we are drawn toward the next biggest challenge. Can I add a flip or twist? Can I throw farther, race faster? The answer is always “yes” if I work hard enough, I can make it happen.
Four long years, several injuries and a growth spurt later I was walking into my last Olympic competition. I now shouldered the pressure of being the veteran and still wondered if I might capture that elusive individual gold medal. By the end of the night I had done just that.
My last routine, my last chance. Nothing can describe the feeling when I felt my feet touch the floor on my dismount off the balance beam. I lifted my arms for the judges, saw my coaches jumping up and down on the sidelines and knew I could not have asked for more. Finally, I had the gold.
I am home this year, watching the Olympics with my husband and our 3 ½ month old son. As incredible as my Olympic experience was, not even a gold medal can compete with holding Rocco and seeing him smile.
The Olympics can teach us all so many life lessons. I want my son to learn that working hard does pay off and that anything worth doing is worth doing well. In fact it’s worth doing the best! I want him to know the thrill of victory but also learn to be gracious if the tides turn against him. I want him to know how special it is to represent his country whether it’s at an Olympic Games or simply in life.
I continue to share these and so many other life lessons with the youth across the country through my Foundation and other work. My foundation’s keynote event, The Shannon Miller Kids Marathon, aims to educate and motivate large numbers of children in our community about physical fitness and good nutrition.
As spectators, we watch the Games for the exciting races, daredevil skills, beautiful lines and incredible strength. We want to see who wins and hear their stories. I believe it’s because we see ourselves in them. Are you a daredevil like Shawn White? Maybe you’re the speedster like Apolo Ohno or Lindsey Vonn. You could be a mix of elegance and strength like Even Lysacek. Olympians, more than any other athlete, allow us to dream.
There seems to be a sport for every person with every body type and every personality. The Olympic Games allow us to believe that a small frizzy hair girl, from small town in Oklahoma, can make it to the big stage and bring home the gold.
So keep watching, keep cheering and keep dreaming!
Shannon Miller was the winner of a combined total of 16 World Championships and Olympic medals between 1991 and 1996, andranks as the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history. Now living in Jacksonville, Miller recently celebrated the birth of her first child, Rocco, with husband John Falconetti.
To learn more about Shannon Miller, visit ShannonMiller.com.