Medals to Mid-terms, She's On the Beam

Medals to Mid-terms, She's On the Beam

Ex-Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller leaps into a new challenge as a BC Law student

No one has cleared as many vaults on the way to Boston College Law School.

Shannon Miller, America's most decorated gymnast with nine world championship and seven Olympic medals, including two Golds at Atlanta in 1996, currently is in her first year at BC Law.

Shannon Miller, who starred for the US gymnastic team in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, is a first-year student at BC Law. "It's a lot more stressful," she says of her new career, "because now, it's not just me out there competing, and if I fall off the beam, well, so I fall, life goes on. Now, once I get out and practice, I'm dealing with other people's lives. That's much more pressure: You can't fall doing that." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Teamwork again is a factor in her return to the city that hosted the US Olympic trials in gymnastics in 1996 and 2000: While she pursues her law degree at BC, her husband, Chris Phillips, an ophthalmologist, is on a fellowship at Boston University.

Eleven years removed from her five-medal performance as a teenager at the 1992 Barcelona Games, Miller, now 26, is a motivational author and speaker, conducts clinics for youngsters in the balance beam, and is preparing a reprise as a broadcast analyst at next summer's Athens Games, after which she plans to perform in a nationwide gymnastics exhibition tour.

The native of Edmond, Okla., is considering one day entering the political arena, perhaps running for Congress as a Republican from her home state, where last year she became the youngest inductee of the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

The Chronicle recently caught up with Shannon Miller as she studied for a mid-term in Torts. Excerpts from a Q&A follow:

How do you like Boston College?

So far, I love it. To be honest, I'm scared for midterms, scared for finals, and very nervous, but at the same time, I just really enjoy being here. I find the law fascinating. At the same time the professors are amazing. You hear all these horror stories before you come to law school about getting grilled in the classroom, and there's a decent amount of it, but all the professors seem really interested in teaching us and helping us learn and get a grasp of everything. That's what's most important.

How does cramming for Contracts or Constitutional Law compare to preparing for the Romanians?

It's the same but different. It's the same because you have to stay motivated. At the same time, for me, it's rather difficult, because I'm not used to sitting in a chair for so long.

Can you expand on any political ambitions you may have?

Right now, my main thinking is getting back to Oklahoma and practicing law. I would love to one day represent my community in the political arena, but before I do that, I want to make sure I have as much education as I can, so that when I am in there, I can do the job well.

I really want to learn. I haven't had any background in politics, so I don't really know whether I would like it or not. I do feel that I want to be giving back to my community, and it feels like a good way to be able to do that is actually to help in that way. But there may be other ways I can help out, if that doesn't pan out, or if I decide that's not the course I want to take. There's always going to be a way to help.

Once upon a time you were on the Wheaties box. Your face was on grocery shelves across the country. Are you recognized on campus today?

Yes, but most people are pretty laid back about it. We're all here for the same reason, all going through the same things. It's kind of nice; it's kind of this double life I get to lead: I go do my gymnastics work and the broadcasting and the other stuff, and then I come back and get to just do the school thing. That's really a good thing for me: It helps me balance everything out.

What motivates you?

Goal-setting, that's what motivates me: I always have to have something to look forward to. I get so bored if I'm not working towards a goal. So I set that bar really high, and I make goals to get there, so that pushes me forward. Each day when I get up I've got something to do.

It would seem law school would be a stressful thing, but then again, maybe not, compared to some of the things you've done. Are you able to use some of the same tools you have in the past?

I can use a lot of the tools I've used before: the hard work and knowing that it's going to pay off, the structure, the time management. On the other hand, it's a little more stressful - it's a lot more stressful - because now, it's not just me out there competing, and if I fall off the beam, well, so I fall, life goes on. Now, once I get out and practice, I'm dealing with other people's lives. That's much more pressure: You can't fall doing that.

What's it like to stand up there and hear the anthem played?

I would say it's amazing, but I don't think that does it justice. It's just such an honor. You stand up there and you realize that all these years of hard work and the pain and the tough days of not wanting to get up at eight in the morning and go into a cold gym and work out for six hours - all of it happened and it happened on one routine at one moment and everything happened at once. And then, to be able to look down and see that you're wearing red, white and blue, and to see your flag being raised, and to hear your anthem being played: it's just such an incredible experience. It's probably the best experience you could ever feel.

-Mark Sullivan


Return to Nov. 26 menu.

Return to Chronicle home page