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Bounding from the backyard trampoline to the Olympics

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SHANNON MILLER: MY CHILD, MY HERO By Claudia Miller University of Oklahoma 320 pp, $19.95

Any story of an Olympic gold medalist delivers a triumph of mind, body, and spirit. "Shannon Miller," told to us by her mother, Claudia, introduces a six-year-old with a knack for front flips on the family trampoline and exits describing a self-confident gymnast at the 1996 Olympic Games with a gold medal around her neck.

A warm, homespun voice fills the narrative with stories of family sacrifices and hometown fund-raisers to finance a talented young athlete. Insights into the extraordinary demands of the gymnastics world hint at a darker side of the sport beyond tiny girls achieving mind-boggling feats.

Miller's description of the tricky relationship between parents and coach competing for influence naturally focuses on the parents' viewpoint, but the mother's perspective becomes a bit smothering at times. Ultimately, the biography provides a valuable look at an ordinary Oklahoma family experiencing extraordinary things as their daughter competes in two Olympic Games, winning numerous national and international titles along the way.

We also witness a young girl's struggle to gain control over her career and performance using prayer and discipline. Shannon's confidence in her relationship to God proves to be a source of great strength.

Her mother gracefully introduces prayer as one solution to alleviate the pain and frustration associated with injuries. Claudia practices Christian Science, Shannon's father was raised a Baptist, and her coach depends on physical therapists and surgeons to nurse his elite gymnasts through numerous stress related injuries.

Shannon, wanting to please all involved, uses prayer and the help of a Christian Science practitioner - a spiritual healer - to guide her through repeated obstacles, and on occasion consents to medical treatment.

This book wavers between a biography of Shannon Miller, Olympic athlete, and an autobiography of Claudia Miller, mother of an Olympic athlete. Through her interest in her daughter's 15-year career, Claudia herself becomes qualified as a gymnastics judge and spares no technical detail. Long descriptions of difficult skills and routines lack the storytelling tactics of the ablest sportswriter, but the final moments of winning Olympic gold are riveting. Ultimately, Miller inspires an awe-filled wonder that one so young could have achieved such athletic heights. Nothing beats a true story of triumph.

*Kendra Nordin is a freelance writer in Boston, Mass.


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