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Laser-like focus drives Wiskus to Tokyo

By Taiwo Adeshigbin, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | July 24, 2021, 7:13 p.m. (ET)

Shane Wiskus’ excitement is seen both during his performance and his teammates' success.

Shane Wiskus (Minnesota Gymnastics) is a professional when it comes to thriving amid adversity, as witnessed throughout his childhood and in his journey to become an Olympian. 

“Those ups and downs are what made him and what’s making him," his father, Michael, said. "You gotta learn how to be a good loser … redirect things and get back into the arena."  

The first-time Olympian helped the U.S. men’s gymnastics team finish with a 256.761 points at Ariake Gymnastics Centre Saturday, advancing to Monday’s team final with Japan (262.251), China (262.061) and Russia (261.945).

His laser-like focus and joy for gymnastics are among the many reasons Shane can withstand the constant life changes. 

As early as fourth grade, Shane's mother, Tammy,  remembers how, just when her son fell into an academic routine, it would change the following year due to his gymnastic commitments. For Shane, who loves the social aspect school provides, transitioning to completely online classes was not an option. 

So they made it work despite the adjustments. And that resilience and positive outlook continued during his college days. 

Former college coach Mike Burns said Shane was one of the best teammates he has ever coached. He was excited for his teammates when they did well, but he would also console them when success didn't follow. 

“He lifts those around him to a higher level, just by the nature of who he is and his commitment to strive for excellence," Burns said. 

As a Minnesota native, Shane loved his home and never envisioned having to move to Colorado. But after the university cut the men’s gymnastics program, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, he had no choice.

At one point, he was training at the university, at local gyms and in his backyard. But it soon became evident he would need a consistent training environment to make a strong push for qualifiers. 

That meant moving to Colorado Springs to train at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. Tammy recalled the many emotions involved in leaving his home. 

Much reflection followed. After all, it's not ideal to hop around gyms because it often sets gymnasts back, Tammy said. 

The family's faith and Shane’s former coach, who has guided him since age 12 until college, were the few stable forces in his life. 

His vision remained unchanged – to become an Olympian. 

“He’s got a good balance of emotional fire in his belly, but it’s tempered with the ability to focus,” Burns said. 

The expectations were even there as a kid, as he climbed the junior gymnastics ranks. 

After improving from 42nd in the 2011 Junior Olympics National Championships to first in 2016, and suffering an injury in between, according to his Instagram, he wrote that “(I) can't believe how far I've come, and can't wait for what's in store next.” 

For some athletes, injuries bring doubt about the future, but Wiskus consumed all he could about gymnastics. 

"He decided at that point he’s going to work,” Michael said. “There was a big change in his attitude after that injury and he did not put his foot off the gas pedal.”

Both parents agreed that his therapist, another constant in his life and whom he has seen since he was a kid, has helped him manage his emotions in an extremely hard sport. 

And even when he recovered from his injuries, his hunger remained and the passion often witnessed at, well, restaurants. 

His parents recalled how, after gymnastic meets, Shane was in a restaurant with a napkin, taking notes as he watched his routine, analyzing it and figuring out how he could be better. He would even run the numbers, adding up what score he needed and speaking to every coach to get feedback – all at a restaurant. 

Shane's hard work and leadership was noticed by his team, who voted him captain his junior and senior years of college. 

“In the grand scheme of college gymnastics, you realize that you have to depend on your teammates, and your teammates have to depend on you," Burns said. 

Burns added that part of the beauty of college gymnastics is the focus on team culture and the team dynamic of helping one another overcome adversity. 

“(The University of Minnesota men's gymnastic team members) don’t like each other, they love each other," Michael said. 

His teammates won't surprise him in Tokyo – as they did during the qualifiers in St. Louis – but they surely will be up early in the mornings cheering, Burns said. 
 
Tammy reminded her son to "do what you love and love what you do,'' and Shane responded, "I will." 

Whatever life throws at him, his vision will remain the same: to compete at the highest level possible. 

 

Taiwo Adeshigbin, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Shane Wiskus' journey to become an Olympian wasn’t always clear. But despite unexpected circumstances, his vision remained the same: to compete at the highest level. 

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