Shannon Miller is the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history with 7 Olympic and 9 World Championship medals. Now mom to 2 1/2-month-old son Rocco, this 32-year-old former Olympian is trading in her passion for the balance beam to help new moms balance their lives with a series of fitness DVDs and a prenatal cookbook. Not to mention her kids marathon to help raise awareness for childhood obesity.
Shannon sat down with Celebrity Baby Scoop for a look into her life as a new mom, her experiences as young Olympian and the beauty standards placed on female gymnasts.
CBS: You and your husband, John Falconetti, are new parents to 2 1/2-month-old son, John Rocco. How is motherhood so far? What are the biggest challenges? The greatest rewards?
SM: “Our son was born on October 28th at 7 lbs, 11 oz. And he is absolutely our pride and joy! I love being a mom and John is such a wonderful dad. It truly is a miracle how a baby changes your life. Things that seemed so important before take a back seat to Rocco’s smile. I love reading to him and kissing him. He is going to be so embarrassed by his mom! Mostly it’s just an adventure.
In the beginning the biggest challenge is getting sleep. Everyone tells you to nap when the baby naps……yeah right! You’re too busy doing a million other chores, working or just staring at him. It’s so important to take time for yourself or you’ll go crazy.
I’m ridiculous when it comes to schedules. I absolutely love them. So a big challenge is fitting my schedule and Rocco’s together so everything gets done. It’s become a game for me and when I check everything off my list I feel like I won.”
CBS: I assume John Rocco was named after his dad?! Was choosing a baby name easy for you two? Did you know you were having a boy?
SM: “We call him Rocco to avoid confusion and because it’s so darn cute! (I mean manly) He is actually named “John" after his father and his paternal great grandfather and “Rocco" after his other great grandfather. He’s a 5th generation Rocco!
We found out we were having a boy over Memorial Day weekend while my parents were in town. John and I are planners so we wanted to know right away. Choosing a name was pretty difficult. With a name like Falconetti you’ve got to have something that rolls well. We narrowed it down to three names the night before we had him. We took one look at him after he was born and knew he was a Rocco.”
CBS: How is Rocco doing? What kind of baby is he?
SM: “Rocco is doing fantastic. He slept through the night for the first time at 7 weeks old (two nights ago…yea!) and is starting to show more of his personality each day. He seems to be a very content and happy baby. He loves his stroller and long walks. He’s started smiling more and it just melts my heart.”
CBS: What are your hopes and dreams for Rocco? Do you want him to be an Olympic athlete as well? Why or why not?
SM: “John and I have always said we just want a healthy and happy child. We want to instill values of hard work, perseverance and dedication no matter what he chooses to do. As for the Olympics, he’ll direct his own path. I’ll start him in mommy & me classes when he’s one or two years old. That way he’ll start getting the flexibility, coordination, strength and body awareness that he needs for any sport. I want him to be active for his health, the rest is up to him.”
CBS: You are one of the most celebrated American gymnasts – male or female – with 7 Olympic and 9 World Championship medals. Where do you keep all your medals? What do they mean to you?
SM: “I still find it a bit amazing. In some ways it seems like a different lifetime. I keep my medals in a safe deposit box. I’m too scared I’ll misplace them or break them!”
CBS: Have you remained friends with any of your past teammates?
SM: “We’ve all remained friends and try to stay connected as much as possible. Of course, we are all spread out across the country and have moved in different directions with our lives. But we will always have that special bond that teammates have.”
CBS: When you think back to your Olympic experiences, what are some of the highlights? Did you enjoy other aspects of the Olympics besides just competing (like meeting other athletes in the Olympic village, traveling across the globe, etc.)?
SM: “I had such wonderful experiences at both Olympics. I was 15 at my first Games and a long way from home. I remember walking into the Olympic village and the first athletes I saw were from the Dream Team. I grew up watching Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley with my dad so in a way it was comforting to see them. And they were all so nice.
One of my competition highlights was walking into the Georgia Dome for the first time. Nothing can compare to the nervous excitement I felt hearing the crowd chant U-S-A and seeing flash bulbs going off like the 4th of July! Of course, winning the Gold medal with my team was huge and winning that elusive individual gold medal on my last day of competition, my last Olympic moment, was one of those feelings that I will never forget!”
CBS: Are you going to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver? Do you also enjoy the winter Olympics?
SM: “We’re still deciding. With a new baby the decision takes a little more thought. However, I do love the winter Olympics, especially figure skating and aerials. So either way we’ll definitely be watching.”
CBS: Looking back, do you feel the pressures of the Olympics is too much for a young person? What was it like for you?
SM: “Truly, I think it’s up to the individual. Children don’t always get enough credit for knowing what they want and going after it. Some children can absolutely handle it and others crumble under the pressure. It certainly helps to have a strong support system around you including parents, coaches, teachers and friends. And, above all, you have to love what you are doing. You cannot fake passion. If you love it you can fight through the rough times and enjoy the good times.
What made my career so rewarding was never the medals. It was learning new skills and enjoying the process. Yes, there was pressure, however for the most part it was pressure I put on myself because I wanted to succeed.”
CBS: Tell us about the pressures within women’s gymnastics – everything from winning, to being the most beautiful, to practicing longer than others, etc. And is it true that female gymnasts don’t get their periods for years??
SM: “Haha. Yes, I get that last question a lot. All I know is, everyone gets their periods at a different time. Frankly that’s a good thing when you have to wear a white leotard in from of millions of people.
As for the pressure, I feel very blessed that I was fairly sheltered and unaware growing up. I lived in Oklahoma with my family, went to public school and did gymnastics for the fun of it. There were certainly tough days and plenty of obstacles but I had an inner drive and outer support system that kept me going.
My coach, parents and I worked as a team. I knew that everyone had my best interest in mind. My parents didn’t allow me to read articles about myself (not that I cared to) and I never watched gymnastics on television unless it was for a particular technique on a skill. And if I didn’t keep my grades up I didn’t get to go to the gym. I think that really helped keep me away from the craziness and understand my priorities.
Of course, you can’t escape all of the pressure. I had television cameras on me constantly and reporters asking nonstop questions, some of them less than flattering: “Aren’t you too old to compete at another Olympics?" “How did it feel to lose the gold medal?" “How much weight have you gained?"
As far as beauty goes, I never felt beautiful in everyday life. It wasn’t until I stepped on the gymnastics floor and became engrossed in my routines that I felt truly beautiful. It was all about the work and the skills not the makeup and the nail polish.”
CBS: How was your self-image and self-esteem affected while being a gymnast? Do you feel you had a strong sense of body image throughout your gymnastics career?
SM: “I was painfully shy growing up. I would hardly speak at school and still remember the anxiety of trying to fit in, knowing I wouldn’t. Some people thought I was being ‘stuck up’ when in reality I was just intimidated by those around me.
Gymnastics gave me an escape. I didn’t need to speak, just do. My self confidence soared when I got on the balance beam. My teammates had the same goals and fears that I did. High school is tough when you are 4’ 8" and weigh 65 lbs. However, when I got to practice and put on my leotard I looked like everyone else.
I never truly worried about my weight until I was about 18 years old. I lived with my family so I ate whatever was on the table. I remember eating ribs from our favorite barbecue place before workout on many occasions. Most people saw how tiny I was and thought I was dieting. They didn’t realize I was training 40+ hours a week and burning a zillion calories. I ate 5-6 times a day just to fuel my body.
However, at 18, right before the 1996 Olympics I started getting asked about being overweight. I had had a growth spurt and was now 5 feet tall and weighed 96 lbs. I hadn’t been concerned until I started having to field questions about my age and weight. I had always looked different than the other girls in my classes but now I really noticed it.
It was certainly difficult to grow up in front of the world, with everyone picking apart the way you look and everything you say or do, but I truly believe gymnastics saved me. The sport gave me a sense of belonging that I hadn’t found anywhere else. It brought me out of my shell. Who would have imagined this shy girl from Oklahoma would enjoy speaking in front of thousands of people or hosting television shows for a living!”
CBS: You married your first husband at the age of 22. What did you learn from that experience? Do you feel you were too young to enter into marriage?
SM: “I learned a lot from that experience. Yes, I truly believe I got married too young. However, I think the biggest lesson I learned was that I have to be true to myself. The entire experience forced me to reevaluate my priorities and become a stronger person.”
CBS: Did you workout during your pregnancy? Did you focus on working out, or were you happy to just ‘let it all go’ for once? I can imagine how hard it would be to keep up with your past gymnast body!
SM: “I did workout while I was pregnant. In fact, I was so clueless as to what I should or shouldn’t do during pregnancy that I did a ton of research. I even ended up taping a “fit pregnancy" DVD to help other women maintain a fit pregnancy. I feel better, sleep better and have more energy when I work out. And it makes it so much easier for your body to bounce back after delivery. In addition, it actually helped with my morning sickness (24/7 for 6 months).”
CBS: How are you feeling postpartum? Have the ‘baby blues’ reared their ugly heads?
SM: “By the end of week three I realized I absolutely had to leave the house. I needed some fresh air and sunlight just to maintain my sanity. I started taking daily walks with Rocco in his stroller and it was perfect! John and I also try to take date nights from time to time.
As for the blues, I get weepy when I think about how fast he’s growing. It’s silly because I can’t wait until he can walk and talk but I know I’m going to miss that baby I brought home from the hospital. Jeez, I’m already crying again.”
CBS: What did all your friends and family ‘forget’ to tell you about pregnancy and childbirth? Is there anything that surprised you during
SM: “No one can truly prepare you for the first day you arrive home with your new baby. The nurses are gone and you realize that you are now in charge. Talk about terrifying!
I got a lot of advice and stories. Many were horror stories about the delivery process. The one thing that surprised me the most was that the delivery ended up being the easiest part. I was induced due to gestational diabetes. It was such a calm and rather painless experience.”
CBS: Are you breastfeeding? If so, how is that going?
SM: “Yes, I knew I wanted to breastfeed if at all possible. So far, so good. Rocco is a great eater! My biggest issue is trying to drink enough water to help keep my milk up. I’ve also been trying to decrease dairy and nuts in case it causes him issues. Those are huge staples in my diet so that’s difficult.”
CBS: Do you cook? Do you plan to make Rocco’s baby food once he starts on solids?
SM: “I started learning to cook earlier this year. I can’t say I truly enjoy it. I cook to get the job done. I like recipes that are healthy and quick. I haven’t even thought about whether or not I’d make his baby food. We’re still several months away and I have a lot of reading to do on that topic. One step at a time.”
CBS: If you could make one confession – either about your years as a world-class gymnast or as a new mom (or both!) – what would it be?
SM: “Wow, I guess what most people don’t realize is that I am nowhere near as confident or self assured as I may seem. I was never the popular girl growing up. I didn’t know how to wear makeup or fix my hair. I was intimidated by everything, except being on the balance beam. Sometimes, you have to almost trick yourself into being self confident. I learned to fake confidence once I walked onto the floor mat in a competition and realized later that I actually felt more confident.
Being a new mom, everything is terrifying. You never feel like you have things figured out. So when I get overwhelmed I “fake" being self assured. When I’m calm my son is calm.”
CBS: If you are working on any other project or with any charities, please feel free to discuss.
SM: “I have been working on so many projects I am really excited about. I filmed two DVDs Shannon Miller’s Ultimate Fit Pregnancy and Shannon Miller’s Body After Baby.
I also wrote a prenatal cookbook with my friend, and chef, Jessica Bright.
I have two other fitness books coming out in the spring. One is a yoga book. The other is an abdominal/core book. I call these “To Go" books since they are small enough to fit in your purse or gym bag. You can take them with you for great exercises to get you trim and toned. It’s been busy but it was a great way to spend this year. I have found a passion for health and wellness for women and was able to dive in and finish some of these projects I’ve been working on for years.
In addition, we’ll be holding the 2nd Annual Shannon Miller Kids Marathon on May 1st in Jacksonville, Florida. The event raises awareness for childhood obesity, the focus of my foundation.”