Allyse Ishino: The Sunrise after a Stormy Night
- by Jenny Peter '12 Communication Women's Gymnastics
Her petite figure stands in front of me at 5 feet 1 inch tall. She resembles both a dancer and a gymnast with her toned arms, small waist, tight muscles and smooth lines. “You ready, SWG?” she asks, giving us a side smile that exudes confidence. “Let’s get it.” Again, she says it with the same secure look on her face, adding a quick chin-up nod. Outwardly, anyone can see her beauty and confidence in the way she moves to a silent rhythmic flow. Inwardly, anyone who meets her has experienced her innate humbleness and strength to rise above the greatest challenges.
As she takes her place in line to run and warm-up for our Stanford Women’s Gymnastics (nicknamed SWG) team practice, all I can think is, Dang. I’m so proud to have Allyse Ishino as my teammate.
Allyse’s gymnastics career has been a series of highs and lows. Just as the Pacific Ocean tide ebbs and flows, so too has her college life. As her story unfolds, think about how one person can so beautifully embody the central element of the Stanford student athlete – rising above when things are down. As you get a glimpse of her life, take it all in – smell the salt in the air that has a tinge of bitter sweetness to it. Feel the sand beneath your feet that changes from being coarse and rough to smooth and fine. Experience the sunshine on your face and hear the sound of the water breaking. Then, witness how Allyse graced the rocky waves of injuries and health complications with her calm and confident attitude and moved fluidly through the seemingly uncontrollable, raging water moments. Through the high tides and low tides, she never drowned. Instead, she was the sunrise in the background.
Before Stanford: An International Star
While Allyse Ishino is her full name, everyone on the team knows her as Weedge. As a kid, her younger brother Glenn couldn’t pronounce her name and would call her “A-weese”. It was later shortened to Weezy and finally landed as Weedge. Former club teammate, Cardinal teammate and current assistant coach Tabitha Yim spread the nickname throughout the gym after hearing Allyse’s father use the family pet name. Now, when people outside the team refer to “Allyse,” my teammates and I look at each other in confusion for a split second and then have the same revelation: “Ohh, you’re talking about Weedge!”
Weedge began gymnastics when she was three, mostly as a product of an impatient mother. While her older sister Genine was in gymnastics class, their mom Arlene didn’t want to wait around with Allyse and her brother Glen, so she put them all in classes. She grew up loving the sport, but it wasn’t the only thing keeping the light-hearted, ponytailed gymnast alive and smiling. She did ice skating, swimming, tennis, and golf with a fun approach and a competitive spirit. When the time came for Weedge to choose, her passion for gymnastics ultimately won out. She made the full commitment to gym around age eight and launched her career towards success.
Weedge was a US National Team Member for four years and made an impact on the international realm as an elite gymnast. In 2004 she won the Pacific Alliance Games at age 16, building her confidence going into the Olympic Trials. That year she hit all of her routines at Nationals and at Selection Camp. At Olympic Trials she hit eight out of eight routines to place 5th in the all-around and earned a spot on the Training Squad. She became one of three alternates traveling to Athens for the Olympics.
Through the 35 hour-a-week practices and traveling for competitions, the level of support she received from her family was enormous. Her parents never pushed her to do anything; it was always about her passion. “The only exception,” Weedge said, “was when I was younger and told them I wanted to quit gymnastics. My mom found out it was because I was afraid to do my two backhand springs. She told me, ‘Okay, you can quit once you do it.’ Obviously, once I did it, I didn’t want to quit anymore. That was a really great lesson that I learned when I was really young – that you don’t ever quit something because you’re scared of it. It’s something that’s definitely helped me overcome a lot of obstacles.”
Her ultimate goal was never the Olympics – it was always to go to Stanford, ever since she was eight years old. Many other California girls wanted to go to UCLA, but Allyse would tell them, “No. Stanford is the place to be.” She became even more certain of the Farm when Tabitha Yim joined the Cardinal team three years prior to her arrival, fueling her desire even more.
Yim was, and still is, like an older sister to Allyse. The two were training at the same gym for three years prior to college. “Tabs really helped me through the entire elite experience and was an incredible mentor from whom I learned a lot,” said Weedge. “I’m so thrilled that she’s coaching us now. She brings so much energy and she’s exactly the same incredible person to me that she was years ago.”
That’s Weedge for you, taking the praise so graciously from others and then diverting attention by praising others right back.
Freshmen year (2007): A Hurting Heart
Weedge came to Stanford in 2006 ready to live out her dream come true. During preseason training in November, she had difficulty breathing and went to the doctor to get tested. That was when the first wave hit. She was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. Blood clots in the lungs. The condition rendered her unable to do dangerous activities, which meant no gymnastics.
Allyse was devastated. Head coach Kristen Smyth relayed the news to the team because Allyse feared she would burst into tears if she told them. After the initial wave crashed, she realized that there was nothing she could do about the facts. From then on she made a decision to do whatever she could to help the team. She would only focus on the things she could control: Her health was not one of them at the time.
The frustration stemmed from the struggle of feeling like she was healthy physically. After she was given medication, she felt completely fine. However, being put on blood thinners prevented her from competing in gymnastics because she wasn’t allowed to put herself in dangerous situations.
“I’m not one to deal with feelings,” she said, “but I got to use dance to compensate for not doing gymnastics and to deal with the emotions. I also went on walks to deal with the frustration, but it wasn’t for feeling sorry for myself.” Allyse never felt sorry for herself. Her heart was always on the team.
Every freshman wants to make her mark gymnastically. For Allyse, she had to contribute in different ways. She picked up new roles on the team quickly, moving mats and getting water for her teammates. More than anything, Weedge contributed in intangible ways: she was the inspiration for the team. Allyse gained the respect of her teammates by being an incredible support system inside and outside the gym. She provided words of wisdom and set the tone for the conditioning, being in the best shape of anyone on the team. Kristen also encouraged her to speak up at practice. She would tell her, “You have the authority; now make your words heard.” Allyse learned to use her keen eye to point out gymnastics corrections that only made the entire team stronger.
“It was good to come in as an observer and see how the team functions so that as a sophomore, I was well prepared with a fresh new outsider perspective.”
According to Weedge, it wasn’t painfully challenging to maintain the inspirational mentality when she went into the gym everyday and looked around at the team working out. She was constantly with these girls who had the best attitudes in the first place, and she wasn’t about to bring them down with her situation.
Her freshmen classmates were an incredible support system. The first night they heard the news, they came to visit, just to hang out and get her mind off of the situation. Tabby was also close to her like a sister, and the two went on walks at night to the Quad. “I didn’t want to dwell on it, so Tabby acted as my outlet and then moved on to be my comic relief and distraction,” said Weedge. “She knew the right thing to say.”
Her coaches and teammates, as well as her innate strength, got her through freshmen year, but her most precious outlet was dancing. Like nearly every little girl, Allyse was put in ballet class when she was 3 or 4. Her sister loved dancing, so naturally little Allyse wanted to do it too. Dancing quickly became her love, as well. Surprisingly, those early ballet classes were the only formal training she had until college. She then joined Stanford’s DV8 hip-hop group to dance for fun and struck the balance between gymnastics practice and dance practice. Dance became a way to forget about everything else. She simply let her body take over in order to let go of the hurt and frustration.
“Dancing…it’s like grooving,” she said matter-of-factly. “When you listen, you get a certain feeling when you hear a certain type of music and that translates into your body movement and then you just…go. That’s why I love it. You don’t think at all – you just let your body go.”
Having gymnastics competitions taken away from her was difficult, but Weedge says her freshmen year was a blessing because she got a chance to dance.
Sophomore year (2008): A Second Crashing Wave
Allyse was given back the opportunity to compete gymnastics on May 1st of freshmen year –yet it was two weeks after the season ended. She had ankle surgery that spring and then rehabbed the entire summer. Preseason in the fall was spent working up to training all the events so that she’d be rearing to go for season in the winter.
A year later than anticipated, Weedge made her debut as a sophomore wearing a Stanford leotard at the first meet against Georgia. She scored a 9.85 on beam, 9.875 on bars, and a 9.9 on vault. Sophomore season began well in that she could contribute big scores gymnastically and learned to deal with the pressure of competing again. Then – the second wave of devastation hit. At the Pac 10 Championships in March, Allyse tore her ACL on the last event. She was performing a Yurchenko full twist vault and when she landed, her knee popped. She thought she dislocated it, but then she was told she would miss post season with torn ligaments in her knee.
Again, Weedge was hurting. She was even more frustrated the second time, especially after she had been given a taste of competing for SWG through the entire season up until that point. She had the short-lived opportunity of contributing to the team gymnastically, but then had to transition quickly to help out her teammates emotionally.
Weedge was there for the girls like she didn’t skip a beat. Since she holds herself to the highest level of excellence of anyone I know, she was able to hold the team to that same standard in order to bring out the best in everyone. The team went on to equal their highest finish in school history at NCAA Nationals with a third place finish. Allyse was living every routine of her team while she watched from the corral.
After season, Weedge experienced a long and frustrating recovery from the ACL tear after surgery. In the spring, summer, and fall, she had a lot of pain. She made some improvements and then had a few setbacks. The slow process made it frustrating. Yet again, her coaches and teammates were there to put things in perspective. She was encouraged, being told, “it’s okay if you don’t have this now, you’re going to get it later.” And she did, because Allyse is a fighter.
Junior year (2009): The Sun rises
By the time season rolled around in winter of junior year, Weedge was determined that the tide would change. She exhibitioned floor throughout the season, meaning that she performed the event but her score did not count towards the team score. She was a consistent bar and beam contributor all year and became a source of inspiration gymnastically as well.
A highlight moment came when she won the Regional Bar title in April. In post season, SWG was low on their number of vaulters, so Weedge stepped in when the team needed her most to compete at NCAA Nationals. That year she experienced so much joy and excitement in competing for SWG once again. The sun was rising, but then a brief cloud covered it – Weedge shared the emotional pain of the entire team on the last day of season when we watched the NCAA Super Six team finals from the stands because we missed qualifying by one half of a tenth of a point in Preliminarys. That experience produced a fire under Allyse and our 2010 team that would carry us into the best season thus far.
Senior year (2010): The Sun Sets
Weedge encompasses the theme of the 2010 season – turning frustration into determination and fighting after every fall or mistake. After watching NCAA Super Six finals from the stands in 2009, we committed everything we had not to let that happen again. Allyse helped lead the way with her excitement coming into fall preseason training. With tears under her belt, she was determined to have the best season of her collegiate career. Again, when season started in January, she was consistently in the line-ups making her mark and she competed in a few meets as an all-arounder. “I got so caught up in the moment that I didn’t even realize I competed four events until after the meet,” she said of her first collegiate experience as an all-arounder. “I could finally do my thing, and it felt great.” Weedge experienced her first college all-around victory with a 39.45 on Senior Day in Maples Pavilion in February. That meet she won bars (9.875) and beam (9.825) and scored a personal best 9.875 on floor. She was ranked 10th in the nation going into Pac 10 Championships where the team placed second to UCLA. We carried the momentum on and won Regionals, leading to a fourth place finish at NCAA national championships – just a half of a tenth of a point from second place!
To me, the highlighted “Weedge moment” that year was watching her perform on floor. When she performed, every head in the arena turned to watch her move in her rhythmic way. She pulled the audience in with her confident attitude and fluid movement. Dance enhances her gymnastics, and the audience can visibly see it, even in her flipping. On beam, she transfers that same “let it flow” mindset that she gets on the floor to the 16-foot long 4in-wide beam. “On floor or on the beam, it’s the same thing,” she said. “It’s just dancing.”
Fifth Year (2011): From Dawn to Dusk
The emotions Allyse experienced as a redshirt senior in 2011 were ones of happiness, excitement, surprise, disappointment, and pride. Excitement started off the season, with everyone performing extremely well throughout. She experienced pride for every one of her teammates who were contributing what they had to give.
The season started off strong, with the team winning the Pac 10 Preview. As the first meet of the season, we came out confident, strong, and consistent. “Being able to perform so well and seeing our hard work from preseason pay off at our opener was really exciting and definitely boosted the team’s confidence for the rest of the season,” she said. We were on such a high throughout the year with a 17-1 winning record; however, we were hit hard during post season when we didn’t perform our best at PAC 10’s and Regionals and thus missed qualifying to NCAA Nationals.
Though Weedge was disappointed with the outcome, she still considered the season a success. “We had an incredible regular season that we should all be very proud of,” said Allyse. “I know the girls learned a lot from this season that they can carry on to next year. I will definitely miss the girls the most. They were essentially my sisters, my family, my loves. They are the reason I loved being a part of SWG and coming to practice each day. Their energy, passion, and love were incredible. I love them all so much and can’t wait to come back to visit and watch them dominate next season!”
Though some tears of growth flowed from Allyse at times throughout the last few years, her Stanford experience began with an indescribable sense of joy. Weedge said that the best zoom-in moment of her life was getting the call from Kristen telling her she got into Stanford and welcoming her to the gymnastics team. “From then on,” she said, “the team has always been the best thing that happened to me and I would do it 500 times over.”
The next best zoom-in moment of her life, she said, was “standing on the last day of season at NCAA National Championships in 2010 with the team. It’s then when you reflect on everything you’ve been through in your four years. And it is an earned right to be standing up there on the podium as a reward for all the hard work you have put in.”
Allyse’s account resonates with me in a very personal way not only because she is my teammate and friend, but also because I found strength and comfort in her story. I, too, tore my ACL at gymnastics practice my junior year right before our 2011 season – the same season-ending injury and yearlong recovery process Allyse endured during her sophomore year. The experience compelled me to thank God for blessing me with a teammate like Weedge. She empowered me to get through the healing process with a hopeful heart. She was the sunrise in the background that dried me off after I could have drowned in frustration. Thanks to teammates like her, my team and I are inspired to overcome challenges with poise and enthusiasm. Allyse has helped shape the legacy for success that we are striving for in this upcoming 2012 season.
We can all take away something from Allyse’s story, whether it be motivation or simply awe of her resilience and character. Her story teaches us that when the waves come crashing down, we can rise up in a moment of inspirational leadership and be the sunrise after a stormy night.