Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller addresses the crowd gathered at the eighth-annual Celebrating Women's Athletics Luncheon in the Events Center on Feb. 4.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Gymnastics great stresses ‘Olympic mindset’Tweet
Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller still sets out to “win” every single day, though her days of competing on the balance beam are behind her.
Setting goals, staying motivated and a positive attitude are crucial to success in any avenue of life, Miller told an appreciative audience of 500 during the eighth-annual Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon. Miller fainted while speaking, but recovered and participated later that day in a wellness program called Walk for the Health of It.
The luncheon, held Feb. 4 at Binghamton University’s Events center, raises money to support scholarships for female athletes.
Katherine Hunsberger, a senior captain of the women’s lacrosse team at Binghamton, was fortunate to receive one of those scholarships. She spoke briefly at the luncheon about how lacrosse has helped to build her confidence and leadership abilities.
Hunsberger, who is majoring in integrative neuroscience, is considering a career in genetic counseling. She anticipates bringing her competitiveness to other pursuits after graduation. “One day, your playing days will be over,” Hunsberger said, “so make the most of the opportunities in front of you. … I have been given so many skills that will allow me to succeed beyond Binghamton University.”
Miller, who referred back to Hunsberger’s remarks during her own speech, said her own experience as an athlete shaped her life and how she faces adversity. While Miller may have forgotten some details of her time as a competitor in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, she said she will never forget the joy of participating or way she felt right before the ceremony where she and her teammates received gold medals.
“The great thing,” Miller added, “is that the Olympic mindset is something anyone can have. You don’t have to do cartwheels. You don’t have to swim like Michael Phelps.”
Gymnastics, she said, is a lot like life: It appears to be an individual sport. No one else is up on that balance beam with you. But you rely on your trainers and coaches. “Individual preparation cannot be overrated,” she said, but you also have to be prepared to be an asset to your team.
Miller, who said she grew up “painfully shy” in Oklahoma, initially followed her big sister into gymnastics. She began competing at age 8 and by age 10 or 11 was on her first national team and wearing a red, white and blue uniform.
She recalled going to Italy for a competition and seeing her name on the top of the leaderboard. “That’s when my Olympic dream began,” she said. It was a dream she held onto while cramming six-hour workouts into her schedule six days a week while remaining a serious student.
Miller said she can remember a point in her gymnastics career where a mistake could make her cry so hard that she’d be unable to attempt the routine again. She said she feels fortunate to have learned early on that the best way to recover is to keep moving forward and not dwell on your defeat. “Mistakes happen,” she said. “It’s how we handle them that matters.”
Over time, her edge became a mental one. She had a toughness that helped her succeed against gymnasts who were more flexible or talented.
Today, Miller still believes that it’s best to channel your energy toward finding a solution rather than feeling sorry for yourself. “If you’re always looking for the negative, well that’s what you’re going to get,” she said. “… In the face of adversity, you cannot allow others to limit your potential. And isn’t that what negativity does?”
Lessons like that one — learned through athletic competition — are the most important in her life, Miller said, and they paid off in college, in law school and later as a mom and a cancer patient.
In 2011, when Miller was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer soon after she had started her own company, her positivity was put to the test. She had a son who was not yet 2 years old and found it a challenge to stay on track when she had a bad day.
After undergoing surgery, she focused on nutrition and fitness. And she saw her doctors as part of her team, just as her coaches had been. “I began to see chemotherapy as a way to compete with cancer,” she said. Miller beat cancer, and she and her husband are expecting their second child this summer.
To succeed, you have to be able to weather the storm, stick to your goals and revise them as needed, she said.
“When you look at winners, the thing that distinguishes them from everyone else is not talent. It’s not effort. It’s not education or background. It’s follow-through. Athletics teaches you to follow through. … It’s the idea of winning every single day.”