The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

Uemura’s Incredible Success

Senior wins big at the gymnastics National Championships
Photo credit: Kai Uemura
Kai Uemura competes on the pommel horse at the gymnastics national championships.

On August 24, senior Kai Uemura came home with seven championship medals, six of them gold. This wasn’t the first time Uemura was victorious at  the National Championships. In fact, Uemura has come home with an all-around national title three times in the past three years. 

Uemura is an elite gymnast at Lakeshore Gymnastics Academy in Mount Prospect, Illinois. Since 2017, Uemura has earned 15 team and individual titles for national competitions as well as international meets. When asked about whether U.S. Nationals varied from the rest of the competitions he has competed in, Uemera said, “The US Championships was an individual competition and unlike Junior Worlds did not have a team aspect. The competitions were actually quite similar in format, in part because the US is trying to model what an actual international competition would look like. Junior Worlds was my first World Championships, and I was definitely really nervous during the competition.” Uemura believes that his experience helped prepare him.  “At the US Championships, I was able to go to the competition with more confidence and went into the competition with the goal to just enjoy showing off my gymnastics, which definitely helped my performance.” ​​

This was Uemura’s third U.S. Championships, meaning he was familiar with the competition. “Because this was my third, at this point I know how the competition works and I have learned more about how to prepare mentally so that I can perform my best. As a member of the oldest age group in the junior division, and with a younger teammate also competing, I took on more responsibility in helping him get adjusted to the big stage. I also had the best performance out of the three years, which was reflected in the results,” said Uemura

With all these victories under his belt, Uemura is a serious contender for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Uemura’s scores indicate solid, clean routines with high execution scores that consistently win in the junior division. However, to take home medals against the top senior gymnasts in the world, Uemura will add more risky elements to his routine. We can “expect to see completely different routines going into next year. 2024 will be the first year I am eligible for the senior division, which means my routines will consist of 10 skills instead of eight. I still have a lot of work to do to qualify for the Olympic Trials and I need to put in lots of upgrades in order to be competitive with the best senior gymnastics in the country,” said Uemura.

While Uemura continues to strive for athletic excellence and compete across the world, he continues to be a full time student at Parker. Uemura said, “All my teachers have been really supportive about my frequent absences due to training camps and competitions. I have realized through my years in high school that the most important thing is to contact my teachers early so that we can plan around my absences.” It’s important for Uemura to organize his time well, and avoid procrastination at all costs. When asked about how he’s worked with Uemura to help balance his academic and athletic life, head coach and former Soviet Union gymnast Arkadiy Andryushchenko said, “Personally, I haven’t done much to help with the academic side of things. I have no idea how he keeps up with school work so well. It’s very impressive. When he is in the gym, it’s all about gymnastics, and I think the gym is a place where he can leave all his other problems aside.” 

Uemura works hard at managing his time and balancing his athletic and academic schedule. “Many of my competitors are homeschooled, and have more time to train and recover than I do,” said Uemura. There is also a mental aspect to Uemura’s success. “My mindset is to do more work in a shorter amount of time. Academics are very important to me, and I want to do well in school, but it can be difficult to find enough time for homework, practice, and sleep.” Uemura explained the importance of recovery time. “Sleep is incredibly important for recovery, and I try to get at least seven hours of sleep everyday, although I find that getting 10 hours really helps improve my performance. Also, as national team camps and international assignments have increased, I have had to miss more and more school which is always difficult.” 

Ueura isn’t the only one who takes note of his organization and work ethic. When English teacher, Mike Mahany, was asked about having Uemura as a student, he said,  “I don’t think that he has ever missed an assignment for me in two years. So although I have to sign planned absence forms from time to time, Kai really supports himself well, and when he returns, it doesn’t even feel – academically at least – that he has been gone.”

Maintaining physical health plays a critical role in Uemura’s success. “In terms of gymnastics, injuries are always a challenging part of the sport. Recently, I haven’t had any major injuries, but the small aches and pains are difficult to deal with. Weekly physical therapy appointments and frequent icing has helped me manage them. Gymnastics is a grueling sport that pushes the body to the absolute limit, and can be absolutely brutal.”

Preparing for a competition isn’t just about physically preparing, Uemura is also specific about the items that go into his bag. His competition checklist includes “two pairs of grips (one for Still Rings and one for Horizontal Bar), two pairs of extras just in case, my uniform, a bottle of honey, gym chalk if the competition is international because sometimes other countries have different types of chalk, lots of rolls of tape.” The honey in his bag is used to make his grips more secure on the bar, since the bars can be harder to grip when using just chalk and water. 

Uemura’s planning and preparation for meets includes personal items to provide motivation. “Some more personal things include two keychains/charms in Japanese. One says “until your dreams come true” and the other says, “thoughts of gratitude.” I try to live by those statements every day, and they serve as a reminder of what I want to accomplish,” said Uemura.

Uemura doesn’t only embrace his Japanese heritage through the charms he keeps in his bag. “In August I had a national team camp held in Funabashi, Japan. This was an amazing experience as we got to train alongside Japanese athletes our age who are some of the best in the world and learn from their training, mindset, and culture. Influenced by this trip, one of my goals for the US Championships was to bring Japanese excellence to the US stage” said Uemura.  He appreciates the Japanese values of hard work and gratitude and that it’s important to remember these values when competing on an international stage.

Uemura’s coaches recognize his unique drive and talent. Andryushchenko said, “Ever since he was little, Kai has had a very good attention to detail. He pays attention to everything I tell him and listens better than anyone. As gymnastics gets more and more difficult, it is more important than ever for successful athletes to be smart as well as athletic, and Kai is one of the smartest athletes I have ever worked with. Another key to his success has been his consistency in his practices. Unlike many others, Kai shows up every day ready to work regardless of how he is feeling that day. You can also tell that Kai loves gymnastics and wants to achieve his goals more than anyone else.”

What the future holds for Uemura has yet to be determined. He is currently in the middle of his college recruiting process and has been going on official visits to various colleges and universities. Uemura will also be making his senior debut at the 2024 Winter Cup looking forward to the 2024 Olympic trials. 

 Even with all of his time away from school, Kai has been able to hold up a more than positive reputation at Parker “Kai never complains – about his workload, about assignments, about the dozens of injuries and bruises that he has to fight through as he prepares for competitions,” Mahany said. “He is easy-going and upbeat, without fail, and he truly is one of the most organized people I have ever met. He also seems to be universally (or “Parkerly”) adored.”

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About the Contributor
Sascha Keller
Sascha Keller, Staff Writer
Sascha is so exited to start her first year on the Weekly! If she isn’t writing, Sascha will most likely be found spending time with her friends and family.