Flipping in Air to Flipping through Casebooks
Olympic Gymnast Vaults into the Classroom
By Tiffany Wilding-White
After more than a decade in competition during which time she acquired seven Olympic medals and numerous national and international awards, gymnast Shannon Miller ’06 is accustomed to challenge—and rising to the occasion. But never content with coasting on past successes, she came to BC Law energized to push her limits in a new field of endeavor.
Law isn’t an entirely unexpected choice, given how much Miller came into contact with legal matters as an international competitor and, later, in running her own business. “I’ve been signing contracts ever since I can remember, and I never knew what I was signing. When I turned 18, it became important to know, and I wanted to have that knowledge,” she said. Law also complements her interest in business, which she studied as an undergraduate at Oklahoma University.
Miller has always worked hard to maintain a balance between school and sports. She enjoyed having interests “totally at the opposite end” of her athletic pursuits. After retiring from competitive gymnastics in 2001, she set her sights on law school.
When choosing a law school, Miller talked with friends and family, many of whom recommended BC Law because they felt it provided a learning environment that was a good fit for her. “I’d been to Boston many times before, and it’s a great city,” she said. “I really like it here.”
Law school presents concerns and milestones different from those on the gymnastics floor, and the regimen took some adjusting. “Sometimes I wake up and think ‘I’m not learning anything.’ But then I realize, ‘Hey, I didn’t know that four months ago.’ I sort of take it for granted that I’ve learned a lot already,” said Miller, leaning on one of her thick textbooks. “I find this stuff fascinating.”
She said her gymnastics training influences her performance in the classroom. “It helps and it hurts,” she observed. Certainly, years in the gym gave her the the discipline to master tasks. So too, did they teach her to excel under pressure. But law school applies a different kind of pressure, she readily admitted. “In law, if you make a mistake, you’re messing with someone else’s life,” she said. “In gymnastics, if I fell off the beam, well, I’d try again next time. But here, it’s much more pressure because we’re not in total control. It’s hard, too, because I’m used to being in the gym for eight hours a day, not in a chair for eight hours a day,” she added.
Actually, Miller still trains and attended this fall’s Rock N Roll Gymnastics Tour, in which she starred. She will also likely be at the summer Olympics in Greece, though as a broadcaster rather than as a competitor.
Outside of law school, Miller runs balance-beam clinics for gyms across the country, works as a broadcaster for televised competitions, and tours as a motivational speaker. “Since I run my own business, studying law will help me personally and professionally,” she said. On the road for business many weekends, she balances work and school much the way she balances in a handstand—with practice. Her first year of law school was the busiest of her life. “With conference calls between classes, travel every weekend, board meetings, and all kinds of gymnastics events,” she said, it was “a challenge to fit it all in.”
What has impressed her most about her law classes became apparent her first day at BC Law. As soon as she met her professors, she realized, “They want to teach. They’re in the classroom because they want to help us learn.”
Did she make the right decision in choosing BC Law? “Absolutely,” she said. “And I’m reassured of it every day.”