Rhythmic Gymnast TikTok Creator, U.S. National Team Member

Elena Shinohara

From rhythmic gymnastics to TikTok fame, Elena Shinohara shares her story of perseverance, identity, & creating content that resonates with millions.

Elena Shinohara is a former member of the U.S. National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team and TikTok creator with over 5M followers. She started rhythmic gymnastics when she was 6 years old and trained her way into becoming a candidate for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. At the 2020 Rhythmic Challenge, she finished fifth in the all-around and was previously named Sportsperson of the Year. Elena graduated from Georgia Tech this year with a degree in Business Administration.

In today’s issue, Elena shares her mindset for improvement, burnout, and being an API creator:

♪ Getting started on TikTok: When COVID started, I was scrolling on TikTok, and came across a video where dancers were doing kicks to get people's attention. I was like, “Oh, I can do that,” so I filmed a video and posted it for funsies. After Zoom class, I came back to my phone, and saw it had over a million views.

💻 Creating an online persona: There's a stereotype where athletes need to be professional role models and whatever, but I think being too serious puts a wall between the audience and the actual person. People tell me I’m very bubbly and positive. Even though I'm an athlete, I want to show that I can still have fun and make mistakes – I’m human first.

😫 Unsexy side of content creation: Burnout. I remember the first year on TikTok, I would make two videos a day. I used to just go and create create create. It started off being really fun, but I got to a point where I already showed so much, I didn’t know what else I could do. Now, I give myself days off to just relax and not do anything TikTok related. Then, ideas will start coming randomly throughout the day. I'm a very private person, so I don't like to show everything. My manager told me to start vlogging, but I really like my private time and want to hang out with friends without filming it.

📅 Content posting schedule: I film all my content once a week, maybe twice, and spread the posts throughout the week. That’s been helping me with burnout for now.

👪 What’s the Asian creator space like? In May 2020, there was an event for API TikTok trailblazers. I had only started creating in March, so I didn't know anyone. But everybody was super sweet – they want to help each other out, give advice, invite people to events. A lot of the Asian creators can understand each other through shared cultural experiences. During the height of API hate, we all got together to reflect and spread awareness.

🕣 On balancing school and gymnastics: I multitasked a lot. Even if I only had five minutes, I would do homework in a car or while eating lunch. The good thing was that my mom was my coach, and she was very flexible with moving around my training sessions if I had an exam the next day or something.

🤸 Have you ever questioned your identity as a gymnast? I had an identity crisis after graduating. I’m known as “Elena the Gymnast”, but now, I just want to be known as Elena, as a human. Rhythmic gymnasts will always be a part of me though since I’ve been doing it for so long.

𓊍 Mindset for improvement: I think of everyday as stairs. Let's say, I went up three stairs today. The next day, I went down a stair because I couldn't do something, but it's only one stair down. You're going to go up and down, but overall, you’ll end up higher. Once you get up there, you can look down and see how much you’ve accomplished.

Success for me was becoming an Olympian, ever since I was 6 years old. I thought if I didn't go to the Olympics, I would be super upset, but I'm actually not. I'm very content and happy with all I’ve accomplished.

🧠 On mental blockage: I had a real bad slump starting around 2017 where I would get nervous and make the smallest mistakes. This never happened before, but I was losing confidence in myself. I saw a sports therapist who reminded me, ”It's a competition. Everybody gets nervous, so accept that.” She also gave me breathing techniques to calm down. In my head, I would tell myself, “I can do this.” My next competition was the best competition l’d ever done.

📝 Most helpful habit: I kept a journal. I wrote down stuff I wanted to work on, stuff I didn't do well that day, and why I didn’t do well. I had a sheet where I would write down each skill, and right next to it, all the techniques that I know. Everytime before a routine or a competition, I read every skill and technique, and it gave me confidence for the floor.  

🌎 On being an Asian-American gymnast: As Asian-Americans, we do our best whenever. When I’m coaching little kids, I can see that they’re not slacking off, even when they know nobody’s watching. That's how I think I improved faster than other girls in gymnastics. When I moved to the U.S. from Japan, I didn't know English. To get through gymnastics class, I had to observe the coach’s body language. I think those observation skills helped me learn faster at the end of the day.

↗️ What’s next? My original plan was to become a dermatologist after my gymnastics career, but since starting TikTok, I decided to get a degree in marketing. I plan to focus on content creation until I'm either sick of it or it's not profitable anymore.

I still love rhythmic gymnastics, but I enjoy the sport itself more than the competition. As you get older, you want to do it for yourself rather than comparing yourself with other people.

🎬 Favorite trait in creators: Creators who put out videos you never thought you'd ever see. Billy (@8illy) and Justin Yi (@justinyi) both put out really interesting content.

💫 Best advice: Do what you want to do. Your friends or acquaintances might laugh and think what you’re doing is stupid. I just feel kind of bad for them – they're probably going through their own problems. But when you keep going at it, it's going to get you somewhere.

tl;dr 1) Think of everyday improvement as stairs. Some days, you’ll go up, and other days, you’ll go down. But in the end, you’ll be on a higher step, and seeing that progress will motivate you to keep going. 2) Keep a journal to track your progress. Include things you want to work on, how to improve, and specific techniques you can apply. 3) Do what you want to do, even if you risk getting made fun of. You’re the one who’s going somewhere.

Keep up with Elena here: