How Olympic Legend Shannon Miller Used Lessons from Sports to Beat Cancer

"It's about getting back up every time you fall," the gold medal gymnast writes in her new book

Photo: Renee Parenteau

Shannon Miller has won more world championships and Olympic medals than any gymnast in U.S. history. And she survived ovarian cancer.

Now, she’s written a book, It’s Not About Perfect, which she tells PEOPLE is her attempt at “paying it forward.”

“It started out as a very long blog on my journey through chemotherapy, which proved to be very therapeutic for me,” says Miller. “Over time, so many cancer survivors told me their stories, which inspired me and helped me to feel not so alone. So I wrote this wanting to do the same thing for other women, with some of the lessons I learned through sports that helped me during this challenge in my life.”

The 38-year-old businesswoman and mother of two young children – son Rocco, 5, and daughter Sterling, 21 months – was having a routine gynecologist checkup in December 2010 when her doctor diagnosed her with cancer. Weeks later, surgeons removed a baseball-sized cyst from her ovary.

“Chemotherapy was far more grueling than I ever thought,” says Miller, who was regarded as the leader of the so-called “Magnificent Seven” who thrilled the nation at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. “There were days I only had enough strength to walk around our dining room table once or maybe twice, a far cry from standing on the Olympic gold medal podium.”

Her book’s title comes from what emerged as the most important lesson she learned from her battle with the disease.

“So much of gymnastics and young adulthood was about perfection, the perfect landing, the perfect toe point, the perfect score,” Miller says. “And then you move into young adulthood and you think it’s about the perfect hair, the perfect body type and the perfect grades. But what I learned is that life isn’t about perfection. It’s about getting back up every time you fall and enjoying the journey.”

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