She was the de facto leader of the “Magnificent Seven,” the 1996 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team that won the first gold medal in the Team Competition. And with a combined 21 medals from the Olympics, World Championships and Pan American Games, Shannon Miller is still the most decorated American gymnast of all time.
In this Inspiring Athletes interview, Miller talks about the challenges she faced as an elite international competitor and the life-changing obstacle she most recently overcame:
Chad Bonham: What was the most difficult circumstance you had to overcome during your journey as an Olympian?
Shannon Miller: I dislocated and broke my elbow several months before the 1992 Olympics Games. This was my first opportunity to attempt to qualify for the United States Olympic Team. That opportunity seemed to disappear in the span of about 2 seconds with a wrong landing on an uneven bar dismount. That injury was the turning point of my career. I had to decide, was I going to give up or fight through that obstacle. I chose to fight.
Bonham: How did your faith help you through that situation?
Miller: I have relied on my faith in every situation. During this time, when I wanted to ask “why me,” “why now,” I had to stop myself and just know that God had a plan for me. That injury ended up being the best thing to happen to my career. While I couldn’t do certain skills until the arm healed I was able to work other areas that I normally wouldn’t have had as much time for. I became a stronger, more flexible, more well rounded athlete than ever before. I am thankful for that learning experience and have continued to rely on it for all aspects of my life.
Bonham: In what ways has your faith helped you beyond your competitive career?
Miller: I faced my most difficult challenge in early 2011 when I was diagnosed with a rare germ cell tumor, a form of ovarian cancer. I was confused and upset. I didn’t understand how this was happening. I had a 15-month-old little boy that needed me. Initially there was so much happening, so many tests, that I forgot to breathe. After surgery and learning I would need nine weeks of chemotherapy, I was oddly at peace with the treatment. I knew it would be difficult, although I didn’t realize how difficult until I got started. However, I felt God’s hand at work. I had to let go and trust that He had a plan, a wonderful plan for me. Cancer is certainly not a good thing but that experience has blessed me in ways I never thought possible.
Bonham: How do you hope that your life and the public example you’ve shown inspires others?
Miller: My hope that my story inspires people to never give up, never set limits on their potential and always rely on their faith as a source of strength.
Read more from Shannon Miller in Chad Bonham’s latest book Glory of the Games, which features past and present Olympians such as Miller, Tamika Catchings, Josh Davis, Ryan Hall, Dave Johnson, Ruth Riley and Kevin Durant discussing various biblical principles that have helped them succeed as elite international athletes.