Book Review:  “It’s Not About Perfect”

Competing for My Country and Fighting for my Life

By Shannon Miller, with Danny Peary

Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, New York

First Edition – April, 2015

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                Let me first start this all off by stating that Shannon Miller is a very impressive and inspirational woman.  I say this as a woman, a mother and an athlete.  When the opportunity was put out on Facebook to receive a copy of Shannon Miller’s book for not only yourself but a person that you tagged in the post the only reason that I had even gone over to the Facebook page and posted was because my fellow HOC Founder, Soul Sister, and Partner in Crime Leslie Phillips, is a huge fan of Shannon’s.  I figured that I could win her a copy of the most recent book from a woman that she admired.  That was my ONLY motivation at that point for participating.

Alas we didn’t receive the free book copies; but never in a million years did I dream that Shannon Miller’s representative would contact me to have me do a book review!  What an honor it was to have that happen! I had heard of Shannon Miller – winner of SEVEN Olympic medals, one of the most decorated gymnasts in American history – but gymnastics, while I have a great appreciation for the talent and athleticism that it takes to compete at such a level, was not ever my sport.  I am a volleyball player; that is much more my type of sport.  I was flexible, but at 5’ 10” I was hardly the physical stature of a gymnast, so I just never picked it up.  Sure, I learned to cartwheel and round off, but that was the extent of my tumbling skills.  My 10 year old daughter has already passed me up on skills!

From the beginning of the book I was sucked into Shannon’s story!  It was a fascinating look into the mind and life of a high-caliber athlete.  As an individual with ADHD the idea of sitting down and reading a book hardly was on the top ten list of things I had wanted to do with my “down time”; especially a book about an athlete that while I had known of her, I had not truly been what one would deem a “fan” of hers.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t liked her or respected her; I was just indifferent.  I was impressed by her talent and skill, but I hadn’t wanted to know more about her to the point of reading a book about her story.  But there I was, reading the first page of the book and finding myself truly interested in her story and what she had to say!  By the end of chapter 1, I was a FAN!  Not because of what she had accomplished in the world of gymnastics, and not for her determination and drive (though both are very impressive to say the least), or for her “finding her thing” at such a young age.  I became a fan because of how NORMAL her life was and how NORMAL she seems.  Reading her book, I was that little girl she described.  I was the girl that dove into sports and would do things that most don’t think of girls doing.  I had the parents that were supportive, encouraging and did whatever was necessary for me to participate in the activity that I had been involved in at that point.  Shannon Miller and I had been a lot alike in many ways.

I feel that this is important for people to know because of the messages and causes she chooses to champion.  She has the Shannon Miller Foundation, which is a foundation that brings awareness to childhood obesity.  She also runs a website that is everything if not amazing!  www.shannonmiller.com is a website that is focused on something that so many in the world of cheer have tried to do but have not been able to encompass it the way Shannon Miller has.  Shannon’s website is a website that is for athletes, parents, coaches and women.  It is something that is motivational, inspirational, and educational as well.  Who better to teach you about holding a longer handstand than a seven-time Olympic medal gymnast?  She can speak to the athletes AS an athlete; to coaches as a coach; and to women as a woman.  She also champions women’s health and stressing the importance of women taking the time to take care of THEIR health.  Cheer moms – how many times have you had that nagging ache or that shooting pain, but you put it off because Suzie Cheer Princess had a competition, or she was working towards leveling up in the gym?  I know I have done it, and my cheerleader is only 10!  I am sure there are those that have done it more times than they care to admit!

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Shannon’s book is a great read.  Very interesting, full of very motivating and wonderful quotes and sayings that she used as motivation or reminders to herself.  She wasn’t perfect and that was okay with her coaches, her parents and herself (well, most of the time).  She takes on explaining the viewpoint of a TRUE champion.  Champions don’t go out looking to win.  If they do they will most certainly fail.  They go out looking to perform at their best.  Her coaches told her to never try to be the top score; she should always try to do her skills as close to perfection as possible.  That is logic that you don’t hear much.  Everyone wants to win.  Typically no one cares how they win; they just want that first place trophy.  I have time and time again stated how I had walked onto the volleyball court and played a match and won, but it was ugly and I was not proud of my performance; but there were also times I walked out onto the court and played like a rock star and felt amazing, but came up short in the end.  That is the feeling of besting yourself and doing things flawlessly.  I knew what she had been talking about as soon as she discussed it.  It is a lesson that too many athletes and coaches don’t care about today.  The win is the most important thing – not how the win happened.  As an athlete I am much happier losing and playing my best than winning and playing like a rookie.  True that the win doesn’t look any different on the record, but in my mind it is completely different.  Easily winning isn’t a true win, just like cheating isn’t a win or “fudging” things to your advantage isn’t a true win.  A true win is using every ounce of skill you have, performing to the best of your ability and walking off knowing that you bested someone also performing at their best and giving it their all.  Those are the best wins.  There are athletes and coaches that truly need to learn that lesson – and parents as well.

Shannon brings a lot into the story.  She opens up about her life, that she was not a child of a former gymnast that drove her into doing gymnastics, or having someone tell her that because she was tiny in stature she would be an amazing gymnast.  She “happened” upon it because she and her sister needed something to do, and her older sister that she followed around (like a lot of kid sisters do) decided to try gymnastics so Shannon followed along.  Only this time, when her sister tired of it and wanted to move on, Shannon stayed because she had found something that she had not only enjoyed, but it fulfilled her need to be challenged physically and mentally.  She found something that she had to work at to grow in, and when she put in the effort she saw the results.  It wasn’t easy to her in the least, but it was something that occupied her.  When her coach saw that she was someone with some talent, he actually “kicked” her out of his gym and told her to go see a couple of other gyms to find where she wanted to compete and work at.  The first gym she was at wasn’t a competitive one, and the coach knew that Shannon was too good to NOT compete.  How she did it – this is how it should be!  This is how a kid finds their passion; their talent and their true skill.  No one is going to be able to “force” a kid to be good at something, and just because mom and/or dad did a particular sport doesn’t meant that genetically the kid will also be great.  I use myself as an example.  My mother is not much of an athlete.  My father on the other hand was very athletic when he was younger (he is still more active than many his age), and played a lot of softball in leagues.  I was the girl that followed that route, playing baseball in the Babe Ruth League in our area because there were no girls teams at the time (this was before Title IX), and then was put into softball as I got older with the other girls.  I was good at softball and kept telling my father that I was going to be the first woman to play in the Major League.  He didn’t buy it for a second.  And then we moved to a town where they didn’t have a girls’ school softball team!  What was I going to do?  I was always a part of a sport each season!  On a fluke, I tried volleyball (because my friend was going out for the team and didn’t want to try out alone).  I had never touched a volleyball before high school, but I was naturally athletic and I was tall.  That helped me out a lot and I ended up excelling at volleyball, getting myself a scholarship to a university to play.  I still play today competitively with ladies that are half my age (though a little slower than days of old), but I am still an asset for a team and trouble for the opponent.

The point is that parents are not going to dictate what their kids do.  Good, supportive parents are going to be there for their kids, and help them work at the sport/activity that they want to participate in and teach them that the team is the ultimate sacrifice; not the individual.  Good and supportive parents will never overstep their bounds and get into it with a coach because of position, skill level, assessment or playing time.  A good parent guides an athlete through their sports “career” and keeps them on track with their commitments; they don’t live vicariously through their child in the hopes of having the next world champion.  Shannon speaks of how her parents never forced her to do anything, but they were there to allow her to pursue things as far as she was willing to.  Her mother even learned the sport of gymnastics and became certified as a judge so she could be involved in the sport that her child was in and know it so she could offer the best advice if her daughter needed it from her.  No parent “makes” an elite athlete.  Shannon shares that a lot of her successes in gymnastics appeared to “just happen” because of opportunities that were presented and she acted on them.  Opportunity knocks, answer the door!  Shannon shares that when she started competing, she had never even considered going to the Olympics as a goal, or winning a gold medal; rather it was to beat herself from the previous time she competed.  It is funny that she can’t even tell you any of the scores that she had when competing because she didn’t look at them.  She looked at what the judges remarked; not what they gave her for a score.  If they told her more height on a move, she went and started working to get more height.  If they told her she wobbled on a skill, she was working to not do it next time.  There was never a time where she said, “I scored a 9.25 on the beam; next time I am going for a 10.0!”  That is the mindset of a truly great athlete.

Shannon shares that when she started competing she had strived to be perfect.  Early on in her book she states, “I was never the strongest, most flexible or even the most talented gymnast, but Steve (Nunno) was the first to say that I could outwork anyone and, somehow, turned it on in clutch situations.” (page 43)  In her mind she had wanted to be perfect.  It wasn’t about THE best; it was about HER best.  That mindset is the difference between becoming an elite athlete and burning out.

Being surrounded by the howebsite sml1nest and good people helps greatly as well.  There are people that will see a meal ticket and will tell a kid anything they want to hear to keep them happy; they aren’t honest with them or even truly trustworthy.  Those are the people that will ruin a kid and when they are used up, will move onto the next shining star in the stable.  Kids don’t handle that type of rejection well at all, and will be confused by all of the accolades and such until they are no longer the golden child.  They will be cast aside and wonder what in the world happened and what they did that made them suddenly so horrible.  Shannon had the right people around her.  They were honest, they told her the truth (but she also wanted the truth; not only hearing the good stuff), and they told her when she needed to hear some harsh things.  Because of this type of people around her, Shannon was able to make a mature decision at the age of 9 which gym would be better for her to grow as a gymnast; not the gym that she had the most fun at or felt the most comfortable.  Not many adults would do that, let alone a 9 year old.  She knew that being coddled was not going to help her grow as a gymnast; she needed to be pushed, to have someone that was going to tell her the bad as well as the good, and that would stand up to her and push her to do what was needed; not what she wanted.

Throughout her story Shannon shares with the reader the times where situations taught her how to deal with things that she used later on in her life for the challenges that lay ahead.  She remembered the lessons learned, and used a lot of what she was taught about her “game face” and her mental awareness to help her push through being diagnosed and treated for cancer.  Her coaches told her that “every day matters; every move matters”.  She used that to never give up because each decision she chose was going to matter – even if it hadn’t appeared to at the time.  She discusses how she almost cancelled her doctor’s appointment where she found out she had cancer.  She had figured she was too busy.  But something told her to go, and because of that she was diagnosed early and treated promptly.

A majority of the book is about her career as a gymnast and all of the different lessons she learned and the things that she kept in her life even after she retired from competing.  Through the next part of her story – basically her life after gymnastics – she talks about how she had to work to find what she wanted to do, how she fought to be “normal” and what she did for herself.  Even though she had traveled all over the world, worked out 6 days a week in the gym and had many different responsibilities than anyone that had been her age, she found that being social was very difficult for her because she hadn’t done the normal things that “kids” her age had done.  She ended up marrying a person that was not right for her – and getting divorced years later.  “I would get married, have kids, and live happily ever after.  It turned out that this was not my fairy tale.” (page 203)

So much of life is taught in sports, and Shannon continually points it out throughout her story.  She tells you where she learned to be very in tune with her body and know when something wasn’t right.  She discusses how a specific situation during a competition taught her how to focus on her treatment and see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is very faint and hard to see.  So many of her lessons she had in gymnastics when she was learning the sport actually provided her with the motivation and inspiration to do what she needed to do, take care of herself and focus on the next step; not the final goal.  If you jump too far ahead you will get overwhelmed and the task at hand suddenly feels so hard and unachievable.  Taking pieces of the big picture and seeing the positives in them; now that is where champions are made.

As I had mentioned earlier, Shannon’s book lead me to taking a look at her website.  I went over to www.shannonmiller.com and was blown away!  Her website is broken up into two avenues – for the athlete and for the lifestyle.  On the athlete side, you are given access to blogs, videos, links and ideas for numerous of things from a healthy diet as an athlete to how to train for a specific goal.  While Shannon was a gymnast, and still coaches today, she doesn’t solely focus on gymnastics.  Sure, her videos are about gymnastics skills, but in the sport of cheerleading, these are videos that are also beneficial for athletes and coaches.  She speaks to proper position and technique, why the position is the way it is, and what it does for the athlete to utilize the proper body position.  She also talks about muscle groups needed and how to work the particular muscle groups for a particular skill and why you do it that way.  I can say as a non-tumbler, I learned a lot from viewing numerous videos on the site.  I would completely advise coaches and athletes to go take a look at this part of the site!website smgym1

On the other side – the lifestyle side of it – focuses completely on women, mind, body and soul.  It has blogs for things such as taking some of the stress out of your day, ideas for quick cardo workouts and health tips, ideas for things to do for your kids, and more.  It is specifically for women, which cheer moms, female athletes and female coaches all could completely benefit from!  There is a lot of great ideas for life, team, and more!

You also have links to numerous things, including activities through the Shannon Miller Foundation, US Gymnastics, and many other corresponding organizations that work with her!  Many worth-while connections to explore and ideas to use.  If you are truly looking to get a connection with Shannon, you can apply to have her come in and speak to your athletes, organization or teams.  She does motivational speaking as well as informational speaking.  It is great to expose our young female athletes to positive female role models, and female athletes are a great way for them to see that they can do it all and be better for it!

                My view of the book?  I loved it!  I loved how she demonstrated her athletic training helping her with life in general and some very serious parts of her life as well as hearing her viewpoints on thing and how she processed everything and her mindset going into things.  I highly recommend it for every athlete to read as well as parents of athletes!  The website?  What a bonus find along with the book!  I am so excited to share that information out to everyone and everything that is available to people on it for free!  You don’t have to purchase anything, but there is a shop to purchase things through the site.  There is information, instruction, insight and everything that one could imagine having access to!  Take the time to visit the site, and definitely purchase the book!  I truly enjoyed it as an athlete; it has much to contribute and inspire you with.  As a woman, I look at it and see that I need to remember to take care of myself or else I won’t be able to take care of my child and all of the things I am responsible for.

Co-founder Heart of Cheer

Co-founder Heart of Cheer

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Book Review:  “It’s Not About Perfect” Competing for My Country and Fighting for my Life By Shannon Miller, with Danny Peary Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, New York First Edition – April, 2015                 Let me first start this all off by stating that Shannon Miller is a very impressive and inspirational woman.  I...