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Olympic Gymnast Shannon Miller on What Every Woman Should Know about Overcoming Setbacks (EXCLUSIVE)

The champion shares how harnessing her 'Gold Medal Mindset' helped her surmount life's greatest challenges


A key member of the gold medal–winning Magnificent Seven gymnastics team at the 1996 Olympics, Shannon Miller, 47, is a seven-time Olympic medalist and cancer survivor. And while her accomplishments are legendary (Inducted into 12 Halls of Fame! Most decorated American gymnast, along with Simone Biles!), her triumphs outside the sports world are even more inspiring.

Diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in 2011, the mother of two used her famous grit to wage the fight of her life. Here, Miller shares her hard-won wisdom — and what she wants women to know about their own inner strength.

FIRST for Women: How do you apply the grit and determination you famously showed at the Olympics to your daily life?

Shannon Miller: I often speak about what I call the “Gold Medal Mindset.” And the great thing is that you don’t have to wear a leotard to have it. This includes setting goals, having a positive mindset and committing yourself to excellence. Whether it’s training for the Olympics or battling cancer, it’s these lessons I relied on to help me find my next forward step.

FFW: What has your battle with cancer taught you?

Shannon Miller: I learned during my cancer battle [with ovarian cancer in 2011] that if I wasn’t taking care of my own health and wellness, I wasn’t going to be helpful to those who really needed me. And doing a little bit for ourselves consistently really does go a long way toward helping us feel recharged and reenergized — and better able to take on the challenges life throws our way.

Shannon Miller makes a ballet split in the air, as she performs on floor exercise at the Olympics
Shannon Miller performs on floor exercise at the Olympics in 1996Dave Black

FFW: How did you handle what must have felt like a roller coaster of emotions during your cancer battle?

Shannon Miller: I went through all the emotions during my cancer diagnosis and treatment: confusion, concern, fear, calm, sadness, stress, loneliness, gratitude, hope and so many others. To be honest, for much of the time, I was just too nauseous and fatigued to try to hide my emotions. But they were there. And they ebbed and flowed depending on the day or even the time of day. I find my strength through my faith and focusing on gratitude. We have to give ourselves the space to have all the feelings and then look for ways we can take that next positive step in our journey.

Related: As Mary Lou Retton’s Condition Takes a Turn For the Better, A Look Back at the Champion’s Amazing Will To Overcomehat She’s Learned

FFW: How do you find time for self-care?

Shannon Miller: I’m highly scheduled. I thrive when I understand the expectations for the day. However, I’m also purposeful in building time for myself into each day. And it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, whether it’s a 10-minute workout at home or just walking while I’m on a conference call. Of course, me-time is more than just being physically active. I love to read or sit with a cup of coffee for a few minutes before the rest of the house wakes up.

Related: Legendary Olympian Janet Evans Shares Her ‘Gold Medal’ Secrets to Success, Motivation and Self-Care (EXCLUSIVE)

FFW: What’s one piece of advice you’d like women to know?

Shannon Miller: I want women to remember that they are not alone. Initially, I lost sight of that during my cancer battle. Often, when we face a big challenge, we feel isolated, like we should handle it on our own. We don’t want to burden anyone. It took me hitting a really rough patch to remember that people truly do want to help. Whether it’s your family, friends, co-workers or your medical team, they are there for you. I learned that there is strength in not only accepting help when offered but in asking for it when needed.

For more stories of athletes overcoming setbacks:

Olympic Hopeful Has Near-Death Experience That Teaches Her “God Has A Plan For Us All”

Olympian, Mom, and Lifestyle Creator Shawn Johnson Shares What She’s Learned

Simone Biles’ Mom Reacts to Her Flawless Vault Performance! See the Viral Video of Her Response

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