Miller is the most decorated U.S. gymnast ever --
7 Olympic Medals and 9 World Championship Medals.
Her own website provides interesting information,
not only highlighting her career as a gymnast, but
also showing how she is helping others succeed. She
is an inspirational speaker, a gymnastics teacher
(giving clinics in balance beam), an author, and a
law student. During our interview, Shannon shared
how her trust in God has helped her at every turn.
What are the defining moments in your life? What
moments have made you
who you are?
My defining moments are in what most people would
think of as failures, when I hit bottom or really
messed up. That's when you show your true character.
And for me, that's when I had to rely on God and my
faith. When everything is going great (winning gold
medals and hitting my routines), it is easy to be
happy and nice. But when I have fallen off the beam,
or I have just lost the competition, or I have had
a really tough day and just want to crawl under the
bed and hide from the world, it is at this point that
I have to decide who I really want to be. It is during
these times that I try to remember that if I keep
my trust in God, then I will have the strength that
I need to get back up on that beam or train harder
for the next competition. He will help me in everything
I need to do.
I also try hard to remember what is truly important
in life. And it isn't medals and winning. The truly
important things are my family, my friends, and a
feeling of purpose in my life. I have had excellent
role models. I want to be a good role model for others,
which means trying to make the right decisions, even
though sometimes it's hard to know what the right
decision is. But I try to be still and listen for
How did you deal with the various pressures?
There was a lot of pressure growing up. For much of
my career, I was the underdog, which was a very comfortable
position for me since not a lot of people expect too
much from you. I, however, expected a lot of myself.
After the '92 Olympic Games, not only did I raise
the bar for myself, but also other people expected
me to do well. They expected me to win! That added
a great deal of pressure. The pressure was pretty
constant, and I was tempted to think about it all
of the time. The best way that I handled it was to
keep working hard just as I had done before. When
I stopped thinking about winning, judges, gold medals,
or TV cameras, and instead kept in mind that I was
out there to express God and the qualities He had
given me (grace, balance, joy, etc.), the pressure
would just melt away.
In addition to handling pressure, gymnasts usually
have to deal with fear. How did you handle fear?
Fear goes hand in hand with gymnastics, whether you're
afraid to make a mistake or afraid you'll get injured.
Fear has a way of creeping in at any moment. In gymnastics
you constantly have to learn new skills, which are
fun, but challenging. There would be certain skills
that I really wanted to learn, but I was afraid to
try them -- terrified that I would get injured or
wouldn't do them right. But if I let fear take over,
then I'd be done. I am a very competitive person,
and I look at fear as the competition. I intend to
win. When I start feeling fear creep in, I remind
myself that God is the source of my strength and will
help me. A Bible verse I kept in mind was:
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed;
for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I
will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the
right hand of my righteousness. Isa. 41:10
Were you always confident going into competitions,
or were you learning new skills?
For the most part you train a variety of routines
so you know exactly what you're doing going into a
competition. But there were times in my career that
I was not able to train the exact routines due to
an injury or equipment problems. And there were times
when Steve, my coach, would change my routines on
the spot in the middle of the competition. Maybe two
minutes before I would go up, he would realize I didn't
have a certain skill that I needed, and he would need
to change my routine. Not only did I have to remember
the new routine, I also had to do whatever new skill
was added without practicing it. While this was pretty
difficult, it helped me in the long run because I
got used to having to think on my feet and having
to perform anything at any time. That helps in competition
and in life because you never know what is going to
come your way. You always have to be prepared for
You've talked so much about being prepared (last
month's interview especially). Obviously, you had
a great sense of discipline and a good work ethic.
How did you gain a sense of discipline and work ethic?
I am sure I gained my work ethic from my parents and
coaches. These were the people I was around the most
growing up. I also remember watching the older girls
in the gym work really hard. I wanted to be just as
good as they were, and knew I would have to work even
harder to get to that level.
My parents helped teach me a good work ethic with
one simple sentence: "If you don't keep your
grades up, you don't go to the gym." Education
was very important to them. They knew that an education
was going to last me a long time, whereas gymnastics
would eventually go away. So I had to make sure that
I was always getting my homework done no matter what.
I learned to do it on planes, buses, and even during
waiting time in between events while on tour! I remember
taking a math exam in the dressing room at one tour
stop. I was about half-way through the exam when they
called my name. I went out, performed my beam routine,
and came right back to the dressing room to finish
my exam. The tour was the only time I had a tutor
with me because we were on the road for several months,
and I wanted to graduate from high school on time
with my class.
And what role did discipline and a clear work
ethic have in your success?
I think discipline and a strong work ethic have a
huge role in my success. Without discipline I would
not have been able to stick with gymnastics long enough
to make it to my first Olympics, which took ten years.
One thing my coach always brags about is how I never
missed practice. Even if I was injured or sick, I
would still come to the gym. He might have me just
stretch and condition, but I was there and trying
to do everything I could. I knew that all the other
girls who wanted a spot on the team would be in the
gym working hard.
I also think my work ethic has helped me in areas
outside of gymnastics. My grades were better because
I knew I had only a certain amount of time to get
my homework done. I didn't really have the chance
to procrastinate. These lessons have spilled over
into every area of my life and should help me to succeed
in my next career.
What are you doing now?
I just graduated from the University of Houston. I
have degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship. I
am starting Boston College law school in August. I
also continue to do balance beam clinics for gymnasts
across the country, do some corporate speaking, and
help promote upcoming events for USA Gymnastics (such
as our National Championships and World Championships).
I am also preparing for a 30-city post-Olympic tour
to begin in the fall of 2004. It will be fun to do
some gymnastics again.
Is there anything you'd like to tell teens?
There are three things I like to tell people of any
age, but especially teens:
- Always set goals -- short term and long term goals.
If you don't set goals, you are not going to be
- Never set limits on yourself. That is something
my parents have really instilled in me from the
very beginning. I could do and be whatever I wanted
to be if I was willing to put forth the effort and
work for it.
- Have fun. Remember to enjoy life. Obviously, you're
going to have rough days, but you have to have fun
and enjoy what you're doing. Life is too short not
to enjoy it.
When did you set your goal for becoming an Olympian?
My actual goal for being an Olympian was not set until
about 2 years before the 1992 Olympic Games. Most
people think that I wanted to be an Olympian from
when I was 5 years old, but that wasn't really the
case. I never watched the Olympics growing up. And
I wasn't even born yet when Nadia Comaneci competed.
When I started gymnastics, I just loved learning to
flip around and turn upside down. As I got older I
really wanted to compete. Then I focused on making
the State meet which led to Regionals which eventually
led to National and International competition. And
by the time I was competing internationally, all of
a sudden the next step was the World Championships
and Olympic Games.
You just took whatever step was in front of you.
Yes, and I think that it is really important to take
each of those steps. If you set a goal too far ahead,
you might be tempted to think it's impossible to achieve
it. So if you can set short-term goals to get you
to that long-term goal, you have a better chance of
accomplishing that final goal.
Are there any stories that have helped you?
Lots! But I love the story about the "loaves
and the fishes" (Matt. 14:17-21; 15:34-38 and
all the Gospels) because it reminds me that whatever
I need will be supplied, whether it is food or companionship
in a time of loneliness. I'm never going to do without
something that God knows I need. I'm always going
to be taken care of as long as I keep my faith in
So you had everything you needed growing up?
Pretty much. I turned professional when I was 13 because
my parents were not going to be able to keep me in
gymnastics. It can be an expensive sport. So there
were sacrifices to be made. I gave up a chance for
a gymnastics scholarship by turning professional.
But in the end, I was able to pay for college without
doing NCAA gymnastics.
I also had a wonderful support system. My family
has always been here for me. They don't treat me any
differently because I do gymnastics. I know that no
matter what, they love me.
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean
not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways
acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.