Profile: Amy Shen brings passion, dedication to gymnastics

Photo+by+Wendy+Li

Photo by Wendy Li

Jake Forbes

Senior Amy Shen’s family was not surprised that she would be a three time national competitor, Bay State Senior Gymnast of the Year, and a Bay State Conference All-Star. She is a level 10 gymnast, which is the highest Junior Olympic level. Like most great gymnasts, Shen started gymnastics at a young age.
“My mom works at Massachusetts Gymnastics Center in Waltham, and she would bring me in as a baby. At first she didn’t want me to do gymnastics because it’s a tough sport,” said Shen. “When I did start, it was just for fun at first, but then I started doing it more intensely and started competing,” she added.
Since starting gymnastics, Shen has attended MGC in Waltham, where she trains with her mom, Shixin Mao, and coach Patrick Palmer, both of whom Shen credits for getting her into the sport.
Shen’s life revolves around gymnastics. She doesn’t play any other sports and was forced to quit piano her sophomore year due to the intensity of her gymnastics program. Now, Shen trains 16-18 hours a week.
“People think that’s a lot, but other girls at my level train 20-24 hours per week,” said Shen, acknowledging some of her fellow gymnasts are homeschooled because of this, but that homeschooling never came into the question for her.
According to Shen, her mom has a philosophy of “more quality, less quantity. This means focusing on execution since we aren’t always in the gym. It is important that we have good execution without having to be reminded by coaches.”
“She has definitely pushed me, and the fact that I’m her daughter isn’t that big of a deal,” said Shen. “I definitely wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without her.”
Being a former gymnast herself, Shen’s mom knows how to stay healthy and in shape. “She knows when to push me, and when I should rest,” said Shen.
As careful as she’s been with preventing injuries, some are simply unavoidable. Though Shen has faced many injuries, she has made significant comebacks that one may call miraculous. “I broke my tibia back in eighth grade, and as a result, my coaches had lower expectations for me. They were happy that I made regionals, and thought my job was done. That took the pressure off my back, and helped me to qualify for the first of three national championships.”
Shen and Mao have had great success working together, but have struggled to find the middle ground between their relationships inside and outside the gym, Shen felt that, “It can be annoying having her as a coach, for sure. But she is there for everything because she is always in the gym with me, understands what I’m going through, and she drives me everywhere.”
Shen is not the only one following in her mom’s footsteps. Her older brother, Jason Shen, competed in men’s gymnastics throughout his childhood, then spent four years on the boys’ gymnastics team while at North. He then went to Stanford University in California on a gymnastics scholarship. He is now 30 years old and lives in New York.
Jason is very proud of his sister, saying “I show off videos of her gymnastics meets to my friends.” He then added, “Amy has always been self motivated. It didn’t hurt that we were a family of gymnasts, but Amy got into the sport because she wanted to, not because someone pushed her.”
Shen’s self motivation led to her receiving the Bay State Senior Gymnast of the Year and Bay State Conference All-Star titles this year. Despite having won these awards, Shen hasn’t competed on the North girls’ gymnastics team since her freshman year, prior to this season.
“I took two years off, my sophomore and junior years, to focus on club gymnastics,” said Shen, and does not regret the decision. “Junior year is already tough enough,” she said.
Shen then decided to continue with the program this year as a senior. “It’s my final year in high school, and I had great memories of the team from freshman year,” said Shen.
“It’s great because there was an instant connection between the teammates. Everyone is always having fun, and I love them all. Even the simple things, like Spirit Day, bring the team closer,” she added. “Our captains, Naomi Adamsky and Carolyn Kolaczyk, give great pep talks before meets. I give a few pointers here and there, and they listen. It’s great to see the lower classmen making a big impact on the team.”
According to Kolaczyk, “I think she’s very dedicated and determined. During one meet she wasn’t planning on competing due to an injury, but the coaches decided we needed her score at the last minute. She did a spectacular routine and helped us get the win.”
Shen will be attending Cornell this fall, and will be a member of the gymnastics team. “I’m very excited for college, and excited to be more on my own,” said Shen.
Moving to upstate New York, Shen will not be able to have the same guidance she was able to before, especially from her mom. “I think that overall I’ll be fine, but I’ll definitely need to watch out for myself more, since she is much more alert when it comes to injuries and rest,” she said.
At the college level, Shen predicts that her life will have a little more balance than it did before. “Gymnastics is a big commitment; it means less time with friends, and that I have to go to bed later. I think it has affected my school performance,” said Shen.
Although Shen hopes for more balance between different aspects of her life, she knows that gymnastics will always be the most important part of her life.
“We always say school is first and academics are important. Though that is true, gymnastics defines most of my life.”