(NEW YORK)–Shannon Miller is one of the most decorated Olympic gymnasts in history, but she’s using a different sport to help raise awareness and money to fight rare cancers.
The cause hits close to home for Miller, who was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer nine years ago.
The disease left a baseball-sized tumor in one of her ovaries. Doctors successfully removed the growth, and an intense chemotherapy regimen had Miller cancer-free by the following September.
Miller became an Olympic icon in the 1990s, as the first U.S. gymnast to win two World All-Around titles. She took home five medals at the 1992 Games, and four years later, she helped the U.S. women’s gymnastics team – known affectionately as “The Magnificent Seven” — win its first ever team gold medal.
After her cancer went into remission, Miller participated in a Cycle for Survival event in 2013. The event was one of a series of indoor cycling fundraisers run by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to benefit research into rare cancers.
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering, about 50 percent of people with cancer have a rare cancer, and research for those rare cancers is “drastically underfunded, often leaving patients with limited or no treatment options.”
Cycle for Survival raised $42 million last year, with more than 36,000 people participating in 16 cities. Since its inception in 2007, it has donated 100% of the funds raised at every event directly to rare cancer research at Memorial Stone Kettering Cancer Center.
It was through Cycle for Survival that Miller met fellow survivor Dani Strumeier.
Strumeier was 24 years old and just beginning her career in New York City, when she received a germ cell cancer diagnosis, the same cancer that Miller had fought years earlier.
Beginning in the summer of 2017, Strumeier underwent two surgeries and 19 chemotherapy infusions at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Declared cancer-free that October, she was filled with the same inspiration to help others that Miller had felt just a few years earlier.
The two met at a Cycle for Survival event in 2018 where Strumeier, along with her loved ones, had formed several cycling teams. She described the experience of “standing up on that bike riding next to Shannon” as “the most empowering moment of [her] entire life.”
Miller called meeting someone who dealt with the same rare cancer an impactful experience, accompanied by “the feeling you are not alone.”
Anyone who wants to get involved can take part in a Cycle for Survival event, Miller says, not just cancer survivors.
“We are all in this together,” she said. “We want you to join the battle, and we want to make sure that we are able to help do everything we can to make sure that that funding is there so that research continues.”
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