WILMINGTON – Ever since she was six years old, Cory Shinohara has loved the sport of gymnastics. Her passion and commitment to the sport is second to none. Throughout her career, the Wilmington High School senior has had multiple injuries, including a broken elbow, a broken back and torn ACL in her knee. She has also traveled all over the world, including trips to Japan, where had she elected to stay in the country, it could have put her on a possible path to represent the country in next year's summer olympics.
Throughout her career, the Level-10 star had to forgo a lot of family events, social gatherings with friends, dances and so forth. She currently trains 25 hours a week at the same gymnasium that former United States Olympians Aly Raisman and Alicia Sacramone before they both came home with Olympic Medals.
Shinohara had to learn about time management – she attends school, comes home and takes a nap, then goes to practice from 5-9 pm, comes home has dinner, takes another short nap, then wakes up at 11:15 and does homework until around 1 am.
All of that helped her land a full-athletic scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina. Back on November 15th, she along with two other recruits, Kathryn Greene and Tienna Nguyen signed their National Letters of Intent to compete for the Tarheels starting next fall.
Shinohara was asked if all of the hard work, practices and competitions, all of her falls and disappointing meets, all of her first place finishes at state meets, all of injuries, all of the ups and downs in the sport and all of the social events that she missed, all of the sweat, tears and high fives, was all worth signing on the dotted line, receiving a full ride to a prestigious academic and athletic institution.
"Yes, absolutely," she stated with a big smile. "(The UNC) coach called my coach (Mihai Brestyan) during a practice and that's when I was offered the scholarship and that was a great feeling. It was one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life. Mihai's number one goal is to get every single one of his gymnasts into college so that's a good feeling for him too when one of his gymnasts commits and gets a full-ride."
During that NLI day, UNC coach Derek Galvin spoke about the excitement of the program adding three powerful gymnasts.
"All three of these young ladies possess all of the qualities to be successful student-athletes here at Carolina in and out of the gym," said Galvin. "We are all very eager to have them join us in Chapel Hill. We are excited about the impact they will make on the Carolina community and our gymnastics program!"
Greene is from Durham, North Carolina, Nguyen attends iUniversity Prep in Allen, Texas, and Shinohara trains at Brestyan's American Gymnastics Club in Burlington, Mass, under the direction of Mihai Brestyan, the former United States and current Australian Olympics Coach.
"Cory is a truly delightful person and we are so excited she will be joining us in Chapel Hill," said the UNC staff in the same press release. "She is such a powerful and dynamic athlete that she will make an immediate impact on vault and floor while bringing along exceptional routines on the other events."
THERE'S NO SOCCER BALL HERE
Cory Shinohara was born in Japan. Her mother Lily, was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States. She grew up next door in Tewksbury, played a little bit of basketball and tennis before graduating from TMHS in 1993. From there, she attended UMass-Amherst and after she graduated, she went to Japan to teach English and during that time she met her husband Hiroshi. The couple had Cory, decided to move back to Tewksbury, before then packing up one more time and moved to Wilmington and later had second child, a boy named Kokoro, who is now 13.
About a year or so after her family moved from Tewksbury to Wilmington, Cory's grandmother noticed how much energy her young granddaughter had, while being around the house, so she suggested for Lily and Hiroshi to sign her up for an activity.
"I started gymnastics when I was six at the gym that I'm still at now called Brestyan's in Burlington," said Cory. "My grandmother was the one who had the idea to put me in gymnastics because I used to flip around a lot in my house (when I was little). I had a lot of energy when I was a kid so my grandmother suggested to my mother to put me in gymnastics. We tried ballet at first and I didn't like it, so then we tried gymnastics and I have loved it ever since."
At that time that Cory signed up for gymnastics, she was competing in another sport, youth soccer.
"The first day of gymnastics, I actually walked in wearing my soccer uniform as I came in after a soccer practice," she said with a laugh. "When I walked in, they asked me to do something that's called a press handstand and I could just do it, I don't know how but I knew how to do it and just did it. Then one of the coaches there said that she thought I could join the team so I made level four when I was seven or eight years old and from there, I have moved all the way up to level ten."
For the past decade-plus, Shinohara has worked her way to Level-10, which is the highest level a gymnast can reach. She has competed in an incredible amount of state, regional, national and international competitions and has enjoyed tremendous success.
At the state level, she is a four-time vault champion, a two-time beam champion and a one-time floor exercise champion. She was the parallel bars winner at the Las Vegas Invitational Meet. She has won a number of regional meets (all of New England, plus New York and a few other states) – 2015 and 2017 in the beam and 2016 and '16 on the vault.
At the National Meets, back in 2016, she placed 34th in the All-Around competition, including finishing 14th on the floor exercise. This past spring, right after making a full recovery from her ACL injury, she finished 41st in the All-Around competition, including 29th on the bars.
Her personal best scores include a 9.8 on the vault, a 9.45 on both the bars and the beam and a 9.475 on the floor, giving her a 37.425 all-around best score.
"I train in an olympic gym and Aly Raisman trains there," said Shinohara. "My coach is very good at spotting the young talent so those are the people who he helps bring up. Mihai and his wife, Slyvia, are both really good coaches. They saw me when I was younger and they helped me come up (through the ranks). We train a lot, so when you're younger, it's three hours a day and when you're older, it's four hours a day, six days a week. I used to do morning practices, before school, then go to school, and go back to the gym from 5-9 pm. Doing those doubles helped make me a lot better, too."
Shinohara was asked what it's like to workout on the same equipment and mats as a six-time US Olympian named Aly Raisman.
"I used to train with Aly, and I never trained with Alicia (Sacramone). I was only nine years old when she was there," said Shinohara. "Aly would train with me in the mornings sometimes and that was good. She's a very good person and just so hardworking. She really helped us mentally – and showed us this is the way to compete. It's very scary competing. I still get scared a little bit, but she helped us out a lot with that."
On the vault, Shinohara said that her routine is usually a back handspring onto the vault, and then a full off-flight. On the bars, she said she does a release, where she will flip and turn and catch the high bar, before catching the low bar, and then she will turn and dismount.
"The vault my favorite and probably has been since I was seven. It's the least mental of the four events and you just run and do your thing. My second favorite is the floor exercise. I like doing the leg events so the vault and the floor. The bars and the beam are my two least favorites. I don't like the beam at all. It's pretty hard. If your balance is off that day, you are just everywhere. You just have to be really spot on and really focus when you're on the beam. Sometimes if I'm tired, it's very difficult to focus and that's when it can get scary when you're competing and you are tired."
DOCTOR, DOCTOR GIVE ME THE NEWS
Like any other sport, injuries happen and certainly do in gymnastics and it didn't take long before Shinohara hit the injury shelf.
"I dislocated my elbow when I was eight," said Shinohara. "I got surgery because the growth plate just disconnected. Then I broke my back when I was 12, that was awful and I was out for about eight months. Then I broke my left foot/ankle, then I re-injured my back again, and then I tore my ACL in February of 2018. That was probably the worst injury that I've had. I was supposed to be leaving for Japan about a month after it happened. The flights were booked and everything. I got surgery in April of 2018. Then I started to compete again in April of this year. My first meet was regionals and from there, I made it to nationals."
In the last Olympics, there were several funny scenes involving Aly Raisman's parents trying to watch her competing. Lily was asked if she can relate to squirming around in her seat, while her daughter flies through the air on the parallel bars, or flips on the balance beam.
"When I watch Cory, yes sometimes I hide, especially when she's on the beam," she answered with a laugh. "It's so hard to watch her. When she was younger at maybe level four, it was really enjoyable watching her because she was doing really easy things. Maybe when she was at level four I wanted her to get the better scores, but now I'm just so anxious and just don't want her to get hurt.
"When she got to level five and dislocated her elbow, it started to get really scary for me because she was doing a lot more advanced things. My mother, used to watch her all of the time and now she can't. She can't watch her live, she waits and watches it on video.
"As a mom, you obviously want your child to do well, but you're number one priority it to make sure that your child is safe. The second part is if the gymnasts don't do well, they are very hard on themselves. You have to prepared to encourage them instead of saying 'why did you do that' because they know why they fell or why they made the mistake and they are much harder on themselves than you could be."
The latest injury, the torn ACL came about 18 months ago. She sat out just about a year, did the rehab work and got cleared to hit the mats again.
"In 2017, I went to Japan (for her first international competition) for the first time," she said. "I did pretty good actually. I was going to go back the next year, but that's when I tore my ACL. Recently, this past summer, I went back there and I competed in a really big competition with a team there and I trained with them. I was there for about seven weeks and I did really good."
During that time, Shinohara had to make an incredibly difficult decision. She had to decide whether to stay in Japan for probably a year, train and practice for the World Championships which would be a possible springboard to becoming a member of the Japan Olympic team with sights on competing in the 2020 Summer Olympics. If she chose that route, her commitment to UNC would be pushed back a semester or most likely a year, and there's no guarantee there. Her other choice, was to sign with UNC and study to become a pediatrician.
"I really wasn't a fan of the atmosphere there (in Japan). It was really different from America. (The gymnasts) don't go to school," she explained. "Japan is really stubborn when it comes to picking the olympic team. I don't know if I would have made it. They pick the same people every time, whether they did well or not (in the competitions to qualify). I just didn't know if it was worth staying there all that time and not knowing if I would make it because they always select the same team. So I decided to go to UNC."
Lily, who has worked in higher education for the last 15 years, explained the choices that were on the table at that time.
"The purpose of going there was to qualify for the olympics for next summer," said Lily. "Cory was invited back for this December for the next round, but she decided not to go and take the college route. What happens is if she chose to go back to Japan, she would have to defer college for a semester or a year and she would have to live there for all of next year.
Cory went on to say that UNC had always been her No. 1 choice, but did have some other elite schools that were interested in her.
"I was interested in (University of California at) Berkeley and it was between there and UNC," she said. "Then I thought that Berkeley was way too far and I didn't want to travel seven hours every time I wanted to come back home.
"I visited Penn State and the University of Kentucky was interested, but the one that stood out the most to me was UNC. It's beautiful there, it's warm and I just really liked the school and it's only about a two-hour flight to come back home. I also really like the coaching staff. (Galvin is) an older coach, who really cares about his athletes, their bodies, their training and things like that which is really important. Then they also have two younger female coaches, and that's always nice to have that."
Added Mom, "The biggest reasons why we chose UNC instead of Japan was because Cory would be getting an education. Gymnastics is a part of her life but it's not her entire life and that was our mentality, school always came first."
Cory was then asked if her dreams and aspirations are still to compete in the olympics some day?
"I'm just going to see what happens at UNC," she responded. "Right now UNC's program is down a little bit but they are building a real strong team for 2021 and the goal is for us to really get up there once I (and several other gymnasts) get there. Making the Olympic team has always been my goal, but right now I'm putting that aside."
DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY
Being one of the country's best young stars in gymnastics and competing in international competitions, didn't happen overnight for Cory Shinohara. She had to work extremely, extremely hard to ger where she is today.
"Her whole life since she was six has been gymnastics," said Lily. "It's really hard. She really never had a childhood. It's very hard to do all of the training that she has done to get to where she is now."
Besides the obvious things of the costs, the commitment to the sport, etc., Lily was asked about how difficult it can be for her daughter to have the pressure of being at this elite level, despite being just a teenager with another six months left of high school.
"I'm super proud of her. Obviously the UNC part is like the cherry on top, but I'm more proud of her because of her resilience. She just kept coming back after each injury. I became like her therapist. After several of her injuries, she wanted to quit (the sport) but she didn't. There would be times at practice when she would say that something hurts, and you have to decide and know when it's just a minor practice pain or something is really wrong and you have to go and see the doctor. And if something is serious, then as a parent, you think it's your fault because you didn't see the injury earlier or if she wasn't in this to begin with, it wouldn't have happened, so you have to be prepared for those things. Mentally the sport doesn't just build resilience on Cory, but also for all of us in our family as well.
"Gymnastics teaches you a lot of life-lessons, it teaches you about time management, it teaches you about your failures, and when you are out there competing, you are being judged. You have to be confident and she is confident (but not cocky).
"While Cory has done all of this, I've also missed a lot of time with my son. I have taken Cory all around the world and I was in Japan with her for over a month. You give up a lot as a family. I think the journey is a lot of family sacrifice but I think we are all just very happy for Cory. (UNC) is her top choice for college and I just hope what she has learned the past ten to twelve years in gymnastics, she can apply to college and not just the physical skills but the mental aspect and the resilience part of it. If you fail, you learn how to bounce back and if you get hurt, you learn that it's not the end of the world."
And you eventually learn how to be a typical teenager.
"This year I have been able to go to some of the football games and do things like that," she said. "A lot of my friends at the high school I've had since I was little and playing soccer, but I've had to give up a lot of social events, dances and stuff like that (because of gymnastics). One time I did give up a practice to go to prom and my coach wasn't happy about that, but now I'm a senior and I can do more social things and my coach is OK with that."