You know Shannon Miller as the most decorated Olympic gymnast in the United States.
You remember that moment–in 1996–when she led the “Magnificent Seven” to
But what you might not realize is that Shannon is also a mom of two, a women’s health advocate, and an ovarian cancer survivor.
LinnieLou spoke with Shannon about her passion for women’s health, her cancer diagnosis, and how her status as an elite athlete didn’t automatically give her the habits she needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle post Olympics.
Keep reading to learn more about Shannon, her journey to help other women prioritize their health, and what she learned from her cancer diagnosis.
From Elite Athlete to Women’s Health Advocate
Shannon is the only female athlete to be twice inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame–and for a good reason.
She is the most decorated Olympic gymnast in the U.S. with seven– yes SEVEN–Olympic medals (two gold, two silver, and three bronze).
She said gymnastics taught her to pay attention to her health in ways that allowed her to perform her best.
“I was focused on a goal, and my health needed to be there to support me,” she said.
However, her status as an elite athlete didn’t teach her how to pay attention to her health once she retired.
“I quickly realized that I didn’t really understand how to focus on my health as a non-elite athlete,” she said. “I was living on my own, not paying attention to nutrition, and went from high-level workouts to absolutely no physical activity. If I wasn’t training for anything specific, I didn’t have the mindset to focus on health. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I may not have been training for gold, but I was training for life.”
After several years of trial and error with both diet and exercise, Shannon adopted an “everything in moderation” approach. She also realized how many women put their health on the backburner.
“Every time I would put off an appointment or a workout because I had too much to do, and every time I watched my mom skip breakfast or heard a friend make an off-hand remark about not having time to get to a dentist or eat a healthy meal, it made me think how critical it is to make our health a priority,” she said.
Shannon Miller Worldwide
She started her company, Shannon Miller Worldwide, to help women focus just as much on their health as their other responsibilities.
On her website (www.shannonmiller.com) she offers 10-minute workout videos as well as inspiration, motivation, and partnerships with companies that make a positive difference in women’s lives.
“I am so blessed to be able to call this ‘work,’” Shannon said. She also travels around the country to advocate for women’s health.
What’s one hurdle women face when it comes to prioritizing their health? Shannon thinks it’s guilt.
She said it’s hard not to feel guilty about keeping those doctor’s appointments or getting that workout in when women face never-ending to-do lists.
“...I try to remind myself is that making my health a priority is not a selfish act,” she said. “If I’m not healthy, I cannot be here to do all the things I want and need to do. I can’t be there for those who need me. It was never more clear to me than during chemotherapy. I needed to focus on my health if I was going to be there for my kids, job, and everything else.”
Her Cancer Diagnosis
In late 2010, at a regular checkup she nearly canceled, Shannon’s physician found a baseball-sized cyst on her left ovary.
“Luckily, the guilt worked for me that time,” she said. “I felt guilty that I was an advocate for women’s health and about to do exactly what I was telling other women not to do–skip or postpone a [doctor’s] appointment.”
Weeks later, she woke up from a surgery to remove the cyst only to learn she had a rare form of ovarian cancer.
The prognosis was good since they caught the cancer early, but she needed aggressive chemotherapy to reduce the chance of recurrence–a treatment that left her incredibly fatigued and nauseous.
She said her diagnosis helped her to slow down and live in the moment.
“I am a go-getter. I love to set goals and power through. And I still set a ton of goals and have many things I want to achieve,” she said. “However, I think I’ve been doing better at living in the moment and not just living for the next moment. And, with my children, I just want to soak up every moment possible.”
Shannon has some actionable advice for those who are beginning a health journey.
She recommends women schedule and keep their doctor’s appointments, and show up with a list of questions.
“I encourage women to make lists of things that are bothering them, no matter how big or small and take that list into the doctor’s office. Let them know that you wrote each item down and would like to discuss it before you leave,” she said.
And if the physician seems rushed?
“Do not rush. It’s your health and your appointment. Ask all of your questions (no matter how embarrassing). The doctor is not embarrassed, there is no reason for you to be.”
In fact, when Shannon went to the appointment that led to her cancer diagnosis, she told her doctor she felt fine despite having a few concerning symptoms.
“I had completely forgotten to tell him about the horrible stomach aches I had been having. I didn’t mention I had lost six pounds that month. I was embarrassed to complain of bloating,” she said. “I just wanted to get out of that office as quickly as possible and back to my long list of to-dos.”
Shannon said women who feel overwhelmed by taking care of themselves and prioritizing their health should start small.
“It’s never too late to start,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to be everything all at once. Staying on top of your health is tough, and it’s never going to be perfect, but if we can take those baby steps each day to focus on something that impacts our health in a positive way, it’s a good start.”
She also said finding a support system is key to stopping the overwhelm.
“Find your team. Find those around you who can help you make your health a priority. Motherhood is a team effort. Whether it’s your spouse, friends, family, or even your kids, everyone can help out,” she said. “And it’s to everyone’s benefit when you’re healthy!