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Life After Gold: Shannon Miller's Health Journey

05/02/2016

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Shannon Miller was only 19 when she decided to retire. The girl from Edmond was an international star, earning seven Olympic medals and charming fans around the world. She regularly spent more than 40 hours a week in the gym, perfecting her skills with her gymnastics family. She had specific goals and a tight support system. She was eating six meals a day, a detailed eating plan designed to fuel her body for the demands of training. Her body was a machine.

Then: nothing.

“I was going to class, and then sitting at home,” she said. “I was very shy. I went back to my apartment and ate, and I ate and I ate. I just kept eating those six meals a day and stopped doing the workouts.”

Miller is the most decorated American gymnast of all time. She won five medals in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and two gold medals in the 1996 games in Atlanta. But when her life no longer revolved around gymnastics, she struggled.

She gained weight. Her confidence plummeted. Her energy dropped. She tried a few fad diets, which didn’t work.

Then she made a decision.

“I decided I was going to get back on track,” she said. “I started with a food diary and an exercise log. I just wrote down everything I was doing and then took stock.”

She was eating all carbs and very little fruits, vegetables or protein. Miller decided to tackle the problem in small steps.

“They didn’t have to be enormous changes,” she said. “I didn’t want to fall into the mishap of trying to cut out my favorite foods or entire food groups. It had to be small changes I could live with. It had to be a lifestyle.”

She also had to make another change: “I decided I had to exercise like a normal person.”

But she didn’t know what that looked like. She’d never lifted weights. Never stepped onto a treadmill. And with her fame, everyone in the gym would probably be watching her.

“I was very intimidated,” she said. “What do I do when I get in there? I had built it up in my head to be this big thing. It wasn’t. Everyone was really helpful. It ended up being such a great thing.”

Her energy improved. Her health improved. Her confidence returned.

“I really started to understand who I was outside of gymnastics,” she said.

From Athlete to Advocate

Shannon Miller poses with her seven Olympic medals

Shannon Miller poses with her seven Olympic medals. (Photo credit: Renee Parenteau)

With renewed self-esteem, Shannon Miller started feeling braver and started making bolder decisions. She accepted speaking engagements – jobs she had turned down in the past. “It was a big turning point in my life,” Miller said. “It didn’t happen overnight. It was years in the making.”

She decided to approach her new adventures like she approached gymnastics. She was going to prepare thoroughly and then jump in with both feet. She worked as a television analyst and commentator, a role she’ll continue this summer in Rio. She tried golfing. She went skydiving because she was scared of it. She went to college and then to law school. She had a baby. She survived a rare form of ovarian cancer. Two years later, she had her second child. She runs her own company: Shannon Miller Lifestyle: Health and Fitness for Women. No matter what, she keeps pushing forward.

Now she’s on tour again – this time as an outspoken health advocate for women and children.

“I want to help other women, and I have a platform to do it,” said Miller, now 39. “Overall, our mission became helping women make health a priority.”

Fitness: Ten Minutes at a Time

Women tend to feel guilty about taking time to take care of themselves, Shannon Miller said.

“We all do that, especially when you have kids and a job and a house to take care of,” she said. “It’s overwhelming. You tend to drop yourself down on the list.” Miller said she sees mothers who make sure their children never miss a check-up, but who won’t take time to see a doctor themselves.

“It’s not taking time away from others,” she said. “It’s not taking time away from children. When you work out and eat healthy and go to the doctor, you’re being more productive. If you’re not healthy, you can’t be there for the people who love you.”

Miller encourages women to be flexible and forgiving with themselves. Life changes; it’s OK for routines to change, too.

“It’s really important to find what speaks to you,” Miller said. “It may be different at different times in your life. For me, I loved going into the gym because it was like getting away from everything else. But when I had kids, I couldn’t always get to the gym, so a lot of times I was working out at home.”

Miller said she still sneaks in workouts at home. She’ll do a quick yoga or fitness video while her kids are taking a nap, or she’ll do a few laps while her kids are in swim class. She’ll sometimes hop on the elliptical while she’s working in her home office. She’s mindful to walk while she’s on the phone or working on speeches. She loves to play golf, but she’ll compromise with a trip to the driving range if she doesn’t have much time.

“We can’t make it so complicated and overwhelming that we just throw up our hands and say, well, I can’t get 45 minutes in today so I’ll just do nothing,” she said. “Those pockets of times really do add up. They’re so beneficial in the long run.”

Miller said she focuses on 10-minute increments.

“I can fit in 10 minutes,” she said. “Everyone has 10 minutes. What I want women to know is that 30 minutes of exercise is sort of your minimum goal. You want to get 30 minutes in each day. That doesn’t have to be all at one time. You can break that up into 10-minute increments, and it’s just as beneficial.”

Miller started filming 10-minute workout videos, which are available free on YouTube

These are not Olympic-level workouts,” she said. “They are for everyday people. That’s what I am now.”

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