book reviews

Repost: Shannon Miller’s It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote on July 27, 2016. It appears here as/is.

Hi everybody.  I know I could be writing about politics or that poor French priest who was murdered near Normandy yesterday, but I think enough people are writing about those topics.  Besides, it’s high time for another book review.  I used to crank them out weekly and now it takes me a lot longer to plow through my reading.  Today’s review is about America’s most decorated female gymnast and ovarian cancer survivor, Shannon Miller, and her book It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life.  

With help from ghost writer, Danny Peary, Miller published her book in the spring of 2015.  Although I kind of quit watching gymnastics years ago, Shannon Miller comes from an era when I did used to tune in.  I remember seeing her when she was just 11 years old, competing in a meet that was aired on the now defunct cable channel, Home Team Sports.  Even back then, she was very impressive.  Years later, when she and her teammates won gold in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, I remembered her performance as a child and marveled at how far she’d come.

Shannon Miller at age 11.

Today, Shannon Miller has a degree in law and is the mother of a son and a daughter.  Her daughter, Sterling Diane, was born against the odds after Miller had her left ovary and fallopian tube removed and endured nine weeks of chemotherapy.  Miller has her own foundation, Shannon Miller Lifestyle, which is devoted to encouraging health and fitness for women. 

Miller reminds readers that her potentially deadly cancer was discovered when she was feeling just fine.  It was a routine visit to her gynecologist that uncovered a cancer that often kills women because by the time it’s discovered, it’s too far advanced to treat effectively.  I agree with her on an intellectual level that people should pay attention to their health.  However, as a healthcare consumer, I think it’s very difficult for many folks to be attentive to their health.  For one thing, it’s takes time and money that many people don’t have.  For another thing, seeing doctors is potentially very demoralizing.  Most of us would rather be doing something else.

Shannon Miller’s gold medal winning balance beam routine at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

In her book, Miller doesn’t focus too much on cancer or even married life.  It’s Not About Perfect is about eighty percent about Miller’s gymnastics career.  I’m okay with that, because I was interested in reading about gymnastics.  Let’s face it.  Shannon Miller is where she is, for the most part, because she is such a talented athlete.  It makes sense that such a large portion of her life story would be devoted to life in the gym.  I appreciated her comments about the historic 1996 Summer Games, too.  I was in Armenia at the time and didn’t get to watch them live.  Readers who would rather read about Miller’s struggle with cancer may be disappointed that there’s not more included about that battle.  In a way, the book’s title is a bit misleading.

I thought Miller’s book was mostly well written.  She comes across as a pleasant person, albeit more religious than I expected.  She mentions her faith more than a few times in her story.  I have nothing against people who have faith in God.  Some people may feel like this book is a bit whitewashed in that Miller mostly keeps her comments about her coaches and gymnastics very positive.  She writes about working out with serious injuries, enduring surgeries, competing when she was tired or sick, and glosses over the politics involved with assembling an Olympic team.  But I got the sense she didn’t want to alienate anyone and, perhaps, was not quite as candid as she could have been. 

Interestingly enough, I read in a review on Amazon.com that Shannon Miller was raised Christian Scientist, which means that early in her career, she didn’t necessarily go to doctors.  But she and her mother, Claudia, are both cancer survivors and were saved by the powers of modern medicine.  It would have been a great asset to Miller’s book had she written more about that aspect of her faith.  Apparently, in Shannon Miller: My Child, My Hero, her mother’s book, the Christian Science part of her upbringing is discussed.  Now, even though that book was published in 1999, I’m thinking I might have to read it.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I like to learn about fringe religions.  Edited to add: I read a large excerpt of Claudia Miller’s book on Google and it looks like a lot of the information is pretty much the same as what’s in Miller’s most recent book.

Miller also is mum about her first marriage to ophthalmologist, Chris Phillips.  That marriage did not last long and Shannon mostly says it’s because they didn’t know each other very well.  Of course, perhaps it was best that she not write too much about that marriage since her ex husband basically accused her of infidelity.  From what I gathered, the split was nasty and it was probably best not to rehash the relationship in the book.  I remember photos of them in People magazine when the wedding happened and other readers probably do, too.  

I thought it was pretty cool that Shannon included photos, including one of her smiling radiantly while holding her son, Rocco, and sporting a totally bald head.  Her trademark frizzy hair has since grown back after it fell out during chemotherapy.  It looks like it’s no longer frizzy.  Shannon’s looking sleek and professional these days.

Anyway… It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life is probably not a bad read for most gymnastics fans.  It’s not really juicy or scandalous, but it’s not terrible.  Those who want to read more about Shannon’s personal life or struggle with ovarian cancer may be left wanting.  I think I’d give it three and a half stars.

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book reviews

Repost: My review of Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu…

And finally, a repost of my review of Olympic gold medalist gymnast Dominique Moceanu’s book, Off Balance, which I read and reviewed in June 2012. This review is posted as/is, so Dominique is no longer 30.

I will never forget the summer Olympics of 1996.  They were held in Atlanta, Georgia, a city I would eventually briefly call home.  Though Atlanta is now not so far from home, back in 1996, it was halfway around the world from where I was.  At that time, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia.  The United States Embassy had graciously allowed Peace Corps Volunteers to use its services, which included a laundry, movie theater, and restaurant.  The restaurant got the Armed Forces Network (AFN), which aired American television shows and, of course, the Olympic Games! 

The 1996 Games were very special, especially for the women’s gymnastics team, which won team gold and consisted of seven amazing young ladies.  One young lady on the 1996 women’s gymnastics team at the Olympics was Dominique Moceanu, author of the brand new memoir, Off Balance: A Memoir.  This book, which comes on the market just in time for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, was also written by Paul and Teri Williams.  

Dominique Moceanu’s electrifying floor routine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Who is Dominique Moceanu?

Dominique Moceanu had already made a lot of headlines before the Games.  At 14, she was the youngest and tiniest member of the women’s gymnastics team.  Born to immigrant Romanian parents, in many ways Moceanu bore a striking resemblance to another famous Romanian gymnast, Nadia Comaneci.  Besides looking a lot like Nadia, Moceanu had the same famous coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi, and the same athletic power, grace, and charisma.  And just like Nadia at 14 years old, 14 year old Dominique Moceanu won gold for her country at the Olympics.  She will always be the youngest American gymnast to win gold, since the eligibiity rules changed after 1996 and now female gymnasts must be at least 15 years old to compete.

Dominique Moceanu was born about a year after her parents’ wedding in 1980 and she was very impressive from the start.  At six months old, her parents had her hang by her hands from a clothesline.  Even as a baby, her grip was amazing and somehow her parents knew they had a gymnast on their hands.

Being an amazing gymnast has its price, however.  Moceanu explains that since her parents were old school Romanians, she suffered a bit trying to adjust to American culture.  Her parents were very poor and came from a country where family honor is a very important concept.  Consequently, Moceanu worked very hard as she grew up and had little control or say over her own life.  Her late father, Dmitru Moceanu, was very ambitious for his daughter and, along with the Karolyis, forced her to train endlessly.  He was very controlling and not above using violence to get what he wanted. 

At age ten, Moceanu began working with the Bela and Marta Karolyi, whose training methods were effective, but brutal.  I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Dominque as she described a childhood spent in a gym full of old equipment and ever changing coaches.  The truth was, the Karolyis didn’t actually do most of the coaching themselves.  They hired and fired different people at the drop of a hat.  

Behind Dominique’s powerful tumbling and confident smile, there was a young lady who was truly suffering for her sport.  Bela and Marta Karolyi, though famous and charismatic on camera, were exceedingly demanding and critical coaches who forced Dominique to starve herself as she put her growing body through punishing and grueling practices.  When Dominique became famous and started earning money, her father squandered it on a huge gym, forcing Moceanu to go to court to become emancipated from her parents at age 17. 

In 2007, Moceanu learned that her parents had kept a secret from her and her younger sister, Christina.  They had given up another daughter for adoption.  Dominique learned of her long lost sister, Jennifer Bricker, when Bricker sent her a letter, pictures, and adoption documents.  Besides the fact that Dominique did not know that she had a sister, she also didn’t know that her sister was born without legs and that was the main reason her parents had given her up.  Moceanu found out about her sister as she was about to give birth to her first child and was trying to prepare for final exams in college.

Now just 30 years old, Moceanu is a married mother of two, an Olympic champion, a college graduate, and getting to know the sister her parents gave away.  To top it all off, her father, with whom she’d always had a complicated relationship, died a few years ago of a rare eye cancer. 

My thoughts

Yes, Dominique Moceanu has seen, done, and lived a lot in her thirty years.  Ordinarily, I would say she was too young to write her life story, but there’s plenty to read about in Off Balance.  This book is written as if Dominque were sitting nearby, having a chat with a friend.  In a casual, conversational style, Moceanu, with help from her ghost writers, retells her life story.  Curiously enough, she doesn’t start at the beginning.  The book begins with Moceanu’s discovery that she had a long lost sister… one born without legs, no less!  From there, Dominique explains how her parents met and wed in an arranged marriage and left Romania for the United States, determined to make a better life and eventually became a world class and world famous gymnastics family.

I didn’t really care too much for the initial jumping around this book did, but I’m kind of old school when it comes to reading life stories.  I like to start at the beginning.  But I also understand that a lot of people will be buying this book because of the recent buzz surrounding Moceanu’s legless sister.  Indeed, I didn’t even know Off Balance existed until I saw a news clip about Dominque and Jennifer Bricker finally meeting each other.  I would have read the book anyway, since I love memoirs about famous gymnasts, but I have to admit this astonishing development in Moceanu’s family life is very compelling.     

I was very touched by how accepting Moceanu and her younger sister, Christina, were toward Jennifer Bricker.  Indeed, they all seem to get along as if they had spent their whole lives together.  And Bricker is truly amazing in her own right; she seems to have inherited the amazing athletic genes that helped make Dominque Moceanu a champion.  Despite not having legs, Jennifer Bricker is able to be a gymnast herself and now works as an aerialist.

Aside from all of her family dramas, Moceanu also writes about the politics and corruption she encountered in the elite gymnastics community.  And she includes the story of how she met and fell in love with her husband, podiatrist and gymnast Dr. Michael Canales.

Moceanu includes plenty of color photos.  I read this book on an iPad, so the photos were easy to see.  The book was also a very quick and satisfying read.  I finished it in less than 24 hours.

Overall

Dominique Moceanu may only be 30, but she’s done a lot of living.  I enjoyed reading Off Balance and would recommend it heartily to anyone who enjoys memoirs, particularly about sports figures.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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