For Elena Shinohara, whose mother competed for the Japanese national team, rhythmic gymnastics is in her blood.
But among many Americans the sport is largely unknown.
In a nutshell, rhythmic gymnastics combines dance and acrobatics. Competitors perform jaw-dropping leaps and awe-inspiring throws and catches with multiple implements: a ribbon, a ball, a hoop, and a pair of clubs.
“It’s popular in Eastern Europe and Asia,” explains Elena. “I realize not many people know what it is, but I love it. Most people confuse it with artistic gymnastics with the bars and the beam.”
She’s been competing in rhythmic gymnastics since moving to the U.S. in the first grade.
And while Elena admits she’s always wanted to be like her mother, her father also brings an interesting perspective to her training.
Minoru Shinohara — who goes by “Shino” — holds a Ph.D. in exercise science, and his expertise is in neuromuscular control of skilled movement.
Shinohara runs the Human Neuromuscular Physiology Laboratory at Georgia Tech. For more than 25 years, he has helped educate instructors and coaches about the science behind human movement. He also applies that same scientific knowledge to helping his daughter perform at the highest level.
After that, it’s back to books and biochemistry. She’s got her sights set on another goal, too: medical school. “I’m on the pre-health track,” she says. “Chemistry is tricky. But I am pushing through. I knew I wanted to come to the best school in Georgia.”
Squeezing in practices between classes, she still goes to the CRC to work on routines. “I’m not at home as much now that I’m taking classes, so I work on stretching and tosses in the studios upstairs.” And she’s become accustomed to fellow Tech students doing a double-take when they see her practicing. “I’ll throw the ball up and catch it with my feet and they’re all like, ‘Whoa! What is that?’” Elena says.
As for the spotlight that comes with competing at an elite level, Elena says she doesn’t mind it. In fact, she thrives on it. “Somehow when I’m performing, I feel free. I’m showing all the work I’ve put in. I don’t notice anything else."