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.
The luncheon, held Feb. 4 at Binghamton University’s Events Center, raises money to support scholarships for female athletes.
Miller says her experience as an athlete shaped her life and how she faces adversity. Gymnastics, she says, 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 says, but you also have to be prepared to be an asset to your team.
Miller, who says she grew up “painfully shy” in Oklahoma, began competing at age 8. Two years later, she was on her first national team. Getting to the Olympics while maintaining good grades required cramming six-hour workouts into her schedule six days a week.
She remembers a time when making a mistake could leave her crying so hard that she’d be unable to attempt the routine again. But she learned early on that the best way to recover is to keep moving forward and not dwell on defeat. “Mistakes happen,” she says. “It’s how we handle them that matters.”
Over time, she developed a mental toughness that helped her succeed against gymnasts who were more flexible or talented. She won five medals in the 1992 Olympics and two gold medals in the 1996 Olympics.
“The Olympic mindset is something anyone can have,” Miller says, explaining 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 says. “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 — paid off in college, in law school and later as a mom and a cancer patient.
In 2011, Miller was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. With a new company and a son who was not yet 2 years old, she found it a challenge to stay on track.
Eventually 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 says. 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,
“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.”