Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: It's Not About Perfect by Shannon Miller

It's Not About Perfect: Competing for my Country and Fighting for my Life
by Shannon Miller with Danny Peary
Release Date: April 21st 2015
2015 Thomas Dunne Books
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250049865
ASIN: B00PF7826C
Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When she retired at age 19, Shannon Miller did so as one of the most recognizable gymnasts in the country. The winner of seven Olympic medals and the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history, Shannon tells a story of surviving and thriving. A shy, rambunctious girl raised in Oklahoma, Shannon fell in love with gymnastics at a young age and fought her way to the top.

In 1992 she won five Olympic medals after breaking her elbow in a training accident just months prior to the Games. Then, in 1996, a doctor advised her to retire immediately or face dire consequences if she chose to compete on her injured wrist. Undeterred, Shannon endured the pain and led her team, the "Magnificent Seven," to the first Olympic team gold medal for the United States in gymnastics. She followed up as the first American to win gold on the balance beam.

Equally intense, heroic and gratifying is the story of her brutal but successful battle with ovarian cancer, a disease from which fewer than fifty percent survive. Relying on her faith and hard-learned perseverance, Shannon battled through surgery and major chemotherapy to emerge on the other side with a miracle baby girl.

My Thoughts
It's Not About Perfect was an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to be an elite gymnast during the 1990s.  As a huge fan of gymnastics, having watched the "Magnificent Seven" win gold in Atlanta, and having followed Shannon's career, I was very curious about her life out of the limelight and what it took to get to the top.  There were always so many rumours circulating about her training schedule and the grueling training, especially after Barcelona, that I was curious as to what she had to say about the whole thing.  To be quite honest, I felt that she kind of glossed over a lot of the issues in gymnastics and didn't really discuss a lot of what was circulating in the media during those years, but it was still fun to read nonetheless.

Her training years were very intriguing to read about, but I can't imagine it was as easy as she made it sound.  I have a daughter who trains around twenty hours per week, and I know how difficult it is to keep up with homework, a social life (if it exists), family time, and personal time, so she made it sound way too easy.   And while it was fascinating to read about her training, and definitely motivational for my daughter, especially when she learned how long it took Shannon to learn some of her skills, I still felt like the real training, the difficulties, were kind of glossed over, and made to sound idealistic.  For gymnasts-in-training, Shannon made it sound like it was possible for anyone to do it and that is definitely not the case.  I do have to admire her tenacity and her fighting spirit however, as I remember the story about her elbow injury before the 1992 Olympics, and I have no idea how she made that comeback in time to make the Olympic team; an incredible dedication to her sport and I'm sure it was an intense training period as well.  Very admirable!! It would have been interesting to learn a bit more about her experiences with Steve though, and what it took to create such an athlete-coach relationship; there was some mention of how he helped her in competition and what they chose to do, which did baffle people at the time, and is more understandable now, but I wish more had been written about that relationship.

I understand about Shannon not wanting to reveal too much about her personal life, especially with regards to her first marriage, but so little was mentioned that readers would be confused about what happened and how everything fell apart.  I think it was an important learning curve for Shannon, and it's hard to understand how that is when there is no explanation for it.  And there are a couple of episodes like that in this novel when it comes to her personal relationships; everything is always rosy and happy and life is not typically like that, so it makes me a bit suspicious as to the truth.  Either Shannon has not personally delved into her own relationships and how they have shaped her life, or she's not spilling anything personal, which is fine.  My only thought to that though, is why write a biography then?  

It's Not about Perfect came across as something that is more of an ideal version of her life whereas the truth lies much deeper than that. In other words, it came across as rosy and sunshiny, but also a bit fake, in my opinion.  While I understand that she went through some very difficult times, both as a gymnast and as a mother, cancer definitely beating everything else out, she always seemed to be so positive and everything in her life was positive, to the point where it seems unreal. I'm not knocking the positivity as I know how important that is when someone is going through chemotherapy (my dad having suffered through lung cancer), but I felt emotionally detached from her as she was sharing her experiences and I don't think I should have felt this way.  Definitely not the same experience I got when I read some of her blog posts, so I know the depth can be there.  Shannon has always been one of my favourite gymnasts, and I have followed her career for years, so I was a bit disappointed in this one as I felt I still haven't seen the real Shannon, more the one that is markerting herself, a company, and a brand.   For anyone who loves gymnastics though, you will definitely enjoy the descriptions of her training life and her competitive career as I certainly did.  It's nice to know that she enjoyed her big Olympic moment when she won beam in 1996 and can remember it with clarity.  I know I certainly remember that moment.


  1. A good review. Admittedly, it's not something I'd go for- gymnastics as a sport just baffles me.

    1. As a parent with a daughter in competitive gymnastics, it's definitely a learning curve, but a fun one too.