As a gymnast, Shannon Miller recalled to a Wilmington audience on Wednesday reaching heights so great they took her to the top of the medal podium during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
But it was the low she experienced in 2011 that brought her to town to speak to the annual She ROCKS Luncheon, where she told how her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and her fight against it, wasn’t as different as her Olympic training.
“It’s so easy to remember the highlights, the Gold medals,” she said. “But remembering the struggle, the falls, the injuries, the moments I wanted to give up. That’s when I learned how to get back up.”
Now six-years cancer free, Miller told the crowd how her lifelong training as a gymnast helped prepare her for the ordeal of cancer treatment. However, she said you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to make it through the treatment, you just need the courage to persevere.
“You just need to pretend you have the courage, over and over and over again, and soon you will have the courage,” she said.
She ROCKS (Research Ovarian Cancer Knowledge Support) is a local 501c3 dedicated to raising money to fund research for ovarian cancer.Since its inception in 2014, She ROCKS has raised more than $560,000, including nearly $200,000 in 2016.
Wednesday’s luncheon was rescheduled from its original date in September due to threats from Hurricane Irma. Organizers said there were even more attendees on Wednesday than had registered for the September luncheon.
While there to support the organization, many were there to hear the Olympic champion’s tales of winning gold, and just like in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, she delivered.
While winning five medals at the age of 15 in the 1992 Olympics, she didn’t win her first gold until 1996, when she was part of the “Magnificent Seven” that secured the gold for Team USA.
“It was so wonderful, to stand on the podium, to see the flag and to hear the anthem,” Miller said. “I just wanted to hang out there for a little bit.”
Miller told the crowd that unlike the 1992 Olympics in Spain, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta gave her the thrill of performing before a home crowd. It was that crowd support that helped lift her to her greatest individual achievement, when she won the gold medal in the balance beam, one of the most difficult events for gymnasts.
“Usually I want to block out the audience, but for that event, I let it in,” she said. “I wanted the support of the crowd.”
After retiring from Olympic competition, Miller received her undergraduate degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship from the University of Houston and her law degree from Boston College. She then moved from Olympic athlete to advocate for the health and wellness of women and children.
“We are so honored to have Shannon Miller speak at our luncheon,” said Beth Quinn, who founded She ROCKS with Mary Barto and Tracy Brown. “Shannon’s story of hope, strength and perseverance is universal. It resonates with cancer patients, to be sure, but also serves as a reminder to everyone. People rave about her inspirational message and warmth, and we in Wilmington are very fortunate to be able to hear her speak in person.”