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Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Shannon Miller on Lance, cancer, pregnancy

By Lynn Hoppes

Shannon Miller
Gymnastics legend Shannon Miller has won 7 Olympic medals and 9 World Championships medals.
When Shannon Miller -- the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history -- heard that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong was finally going to admit that he took performance-enhancing drugs, she thought of one word:

"Disheartening."

Not because Armstrong was coming clean, but because of the harm he might have caused by lying for years.

"These young children look up to athletes. To have someone like Lance do so much good through Livestrong for so many people and now have that reversed, it's difficult," Miller said. "How do you explain that to your kids? How do you come to terms with it yourself?"

Miller, like Armstrong, has overcome cancer. But Miller, unlike Armstrong, knew that being in the public eye meant being a role model.

"These medals gave me a voice that I wouldn't have otherwise, but what am I going to do with that voice?" said Miller, who won seven Olympic medals and nine World Championship medals over the course of her competitive career. "I have my own child and I have another on the way, so who do I want him to idolize?"

Playbook had a few minutes with Miller, who was in Hartford, Conn., over the weekend to promote the 2013 U.S. Gymnastics Championships in August.

When you heard about Armstrong's announcement, what was your first reaction?

"It was difficult. It was difficult for a lot of reasons, especially for those professional and Olympic athletes. You don't want people or kids to think that everyone does this to get ahead. Everyone doesn't do this. You don't want a kid to think that if they want to win, they have to do this."

Shannon Miller
Shannon Miller, husband John Falconetti and son Rocco can't wait for the latest addition to the family, due in June.
You've always embraced that role model label.

"My parents taught me early on. It doesn't matter if you want to be or not. You're in the public eye. You're a role model. You have to take it seriously. You'll make mistakes. It's going to happen. It's life. You must understand that what you do matters to people who are watching."

And that's why you started your health and fitness foundations, wanting to empower women.

"When I left the sport [in 1997], I immediately continued my undergraduate degree. I then went to law school and I wanted to start a company. I didn't know what I wanted it to be. I created a foundation in 2007 to fight childhood obesity. In 2009, I formed my own company, and it launched in 2010. Six months into it, I found out I had cancer. I think I have to credit having the company for helping me get in to see my doctor. I had done weekly interviews with physicians. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they tell you not to skip your exams and screenings. I was calling up to cancel my appointment and then I thought, wait, I'm an advocate for women's health and I'm doing what I tell women not to do.' So I decided to keep my appointment. That was the day they found the cyst."

So you began the fight against a form of ovarian cancer.

"I stayed positive mainly from things I learned in gymnastics. I learned that being negative about anything doesn't really help you. I tried to find the silver lining. I just had to look at my 15-month-old baby boy. After surgery, I knew I had to go through chemo [for nine weeks]. I sat down with my husband and thought about how public I want to make this. I told him that I want to shout it from the rooftops. I don't want another woman to call up to cancel her appointment. One hour after I announced, I got an email from a lady in Houston. She had three kids and hadn't been to the doctor in five years. She had watched me growing up and heard my announcement. She decided to call her doctor. That was waterworks for me."

And now you're cancer free and just announced you're pregnant with your second child with husband John Falconetti. The baby is due this summer.

"We waited to share the news because of my background with cancer, just to be sure. We didn't want to tell our son too early either. Oh, and I want to know whether it's a boy or a girl, as early as possible. I'm a Type A personality. I want to get the nursery ready."

It sounds like you're in a good place these days.

"People ask me all the time whether I'd change anything in my career. I thought about it long and hard and I said I wouldn't change a thing. I had a broken elbow before the 1992 Olympics. I was hungry enough to get that medal. It was a great lesson. It also helped me battle through cancer. It seems every challenge and stumbling block is God's way of saying, 'How are you going to handle this one and just know that this is a lesson for the future, so get ready.'"