I grew up watching the female gymnasts and ice skaters during each Olympic year. Those were my favorites to watch and it's most likely because I was an avid dancer back in my day. So the rhythmic moves of the athletes would leave me spellbound by their performances. So naturally, when I was asked to photograph 7-time Olympic medalist and America's most decorated gymnast, Shannon Miller, I was thrilled beyond belief!
Shannon Miller graced my television during the 1992 Olympics and again in the 1996 games. We're the same age, and to watch her accomplish some of the most incredible feats as a young, female athlete was so very inspiring to me. I remember her fall on the balance beam and how she had to get back up with all of those eyes on her. Amazingly, that fall did not define her and instead I think it fueled her to keep going and to fight harder. I would soon learn that it wasn't until her ovarian cancer diagnosis at age 33 that her real fight began, and she would need to summon all of her strength and champion spirit in order to fight for her life.
It was upon her recent travel to Fairfield, CT that I would photograph her for the CT Challenge Speaker Series to help motivate and empower those touched by cancer and to share Shannon's career and cancer experiences. CT Challenge is a wonderful nonprofit organization dedicated to helping cancer survivors rebuild their lives. It was a pleasure collaborating with them on this day.
One of my favorite moments from our afternoon together was when 11 year old Maya (also a gymnast) came to meet Shannon. This brave and inspiring young girl had always dreamed of becoming an Olympic gymnast, and just two years ago she was faced with the devastating news of having an osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in her leg. She went from qualifying for states to sudden chemotherapy treatments and eventually amputation surgery.
Her new prosthetic leg will allow her to return to gymnastics as long as she is in remission and in good health. Maya has a long road ahead yet she hasn't stopped dreaming. You'll see in these photos that she is just as determined as ever to continue her favorite sport! Maya's new goal is to become a Paralympian and she wants others to know that, [Tweet ""if you believe and never give up, than you can make your dreams happen"."]
As I listened to Shannon's keynote presentation, I couldn't help but feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude for getting to share in this experience with all of the survivors and warriors in the audience. Shannon shared so much of herself. She was vulnerable with us all and she made sure the audience knew that they weren't alone in their struggles.
Shannon and Maya, if either of you happen to read this… thank you. For allowing us to witness your incredible strength. For never letting your dreams be easy to dismiss. For inspiring us all. For showing the world your compassion, resilient spirit and self-worth. For leading communities by your example. For giving us all hope. For reminding us that even when we fall, it will be okay. We just need to get back up and keep on fighting… like a champion and a survivor.
If this Wife, Mother, Olympic Gold Medalist, Television & Radio Personality, Health & Fitness Advocate and Cancer Survivor motivates you or you'd like more info on her mission, please support her endeavors at the URLs below and feel free to share this article with someone who might need some encouragement on their cancer journey as well.