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Olympian Shannon Miller speaks to aspiring gymnasts at Brandon YMCA

Some people will say their most memorable prayer occurred while in church, kneeling bedside or maybe even driving.

Shannon Miller's most memorable prayer came in the middle of a full-twisting double somersault dismount off a 4-inch wide beam elevated nearly 5 feet above the floor with 32,000 fans looking on in awe.

As she went spinning through the Georgia Dome, eyes closed, Miller didn't pray to win a second gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She didn't pray to become the most decorated U.S. gymnast in Olympic history and one of the sport's icons.

She just prayed to land on her feet.

"When my feet hit the floor and I realized I was standing, there was just such a tremendous sense of joy and relief," Miller recalled for aspiring gymnasts at the Brandon YMCA this week.

"There were so many flashbulbs going off, it was like the Fourth of July in there. I just lived in that moment. I didn't care if I medaled."

But Miller did medal, becoming the first American to win gold in the beam. In town to inspire up-and-coming gymnasts and promote her new wellness project, Miller, 33, appears to be almost as fit as when she won seven Olympic medals at the 1992 and '96 Games.

Although she may be best remembered for leading the '96

U.S. women to a team gold in Atlanta, that Olympiad wasn't picture perfect for Miller.

"That night we won the team gold just felt amazing," Miller said. "We had won these gold medals, but we had no clue about the impact we had and that the world was watching.

"We were staying in a fraternity house on the Emory campus … and I remember my coach saying, 'Get some sleep, you still have three more competitions.' "

But in the individual all-around competition that followed, Miller stumbled on the floor and vault, mistiming her steps in her vault approach just like amateur gymnasts do every day in practice.

Before the individual event competition, Miller made a distressed called to her mother, who reminded her of all the work she had done.

"She said, 'Just go out and enjoy it and have some fun."

Returning to the passion that had fueled her drive through grueling practices and debilitating injuries helped her reach the ultimate goal, and Miller emphasized having fun in Brandon and at similar appearances at the Interbay YMCA in South Tampa and the Bob Sierra YMCA in Carrollwood.

She also stressed setting long-term and short-term goals, challenging the girls to do the little things in practice to reach their long-term dreams.

And she implored them not to set limits on themselves.

"There's always going to be someone telling you what you can't do," Miller said. "You're too short or too tall, you're too small or too big. Your job is to figure out how you can succeed."

Miller bored through that process after her Olympic career ended, saying her world turned upside as she moved from practicing 40 hours a week to sitting on the couch and eating a lot of unhealthy snacks.

She regained her fitness and stayed focused on her education, earning a undergraduate degree in marketing and a law degree from Boston College.

Still, she remained undecided about her career direction.

"I had to have a heart to heart with myself about what am I passionate about," said Miller, who now lives in Jacksonville with her husband and 7-month-old son.

In July, Miller will launch Shannon Miller Lifestyle (ShannonMillerLifestyle.com), a new project promoting health and wellness among women. Her foundation focuses on childhood obesity and Miller believes the best approach is empowering women to make more informed decisions about exercise and nutrition.

Miller seems primed to tackle her career and her relatively new role as a mother without tumbling. It appears her prayers have been answered.

That's all I'm saying.

Olympian Shannon Miller speaks to aspiring gymnasts at Brandon YMCA 06/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:48pm]
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