Shane Wiscus first tried gymnastics because his parents wanted him to. No, Mike and Tammy Wiscus didn’t put their 5-year-old in sports with early dreams of a college scholarship or as far-fetched as the Olympics.
The Spring Park, Minn., family put Shane in tumbling classes at North Shore Gymnastics at Maple Plain about 17 years ago to burn off his abundant energy. It was because he was a handful at home, literally jumping on furniture and figuratively still bouncing off walls when it was time to sleep.
“That was crazy,” Mike Viskas said in an interview with Pioneer Press. “It was hard to be with him.”
About two months in, Mike recalls the gymnastics coach saying, “We need to talk.” Earlier this week Mike laughed at the idea. The same first coach recognized Shane, he was different from the other players.
This was when Viskas embarked on a much longer trajectory, including an extraordinary career in the Gophers men’s gymnastics program and now, reaching the pinnacle at these Olympic Games in Tokyo. He will take on the four-man US team starting Saturday.
As a child, Shane also played football, hockey, and baseball, but one after the other, he dropped them to focus on gymnastics. As a minor league pitcher, a batsman hit a line drive straight into his face. This caused the teeth to become loose and blood came out of his mouth.
“He walked in and said, ‘I’m done with it, let’s stick to gymnastics,'” Mike recalled. But given the airborne nature of the sport, it comes with its own health risks. Shane, who wasn’t afraid of heights as a kid, wanted to push all limits, and one of them was to perform the Iron Cross trick on the Rings. This is where a gymnast holds the rings with the arms parallel to the ground below.
The coaches at Mini Hops told Shane that his youngster could cut his shoulders and wrists if he tried to make the move too early. Her body needed to mature more first. Once he was approved, he was “so pumped and ready,” Mike said.
Shane’s willingness to push the limits is something Mike understands well. For the past 22 years, Mike Wiskes has been a stunt pilot with Lucas Oil, touring the US and Canada.
“It’s not so much the risk as it is the practice,” Mike explained. “There’s always a risk of falling in gymnastics. There’s always a risk of crashing during airshows. … I barely fly. My son watches.”
Mike’s TikTok account has 121,400 followers and it posts videos of him performing various stunts, such as cutting ribbons 15 feet off the ground, while the plane turns upside down as it goes backwards.
Gophers gymnastics coach Mike Burns sees a connection between the airshow and gymnastics meet.
“(Mike) has a very adventurous approach to life, and I think that lends itself to gymnastics,” Burns said. “We have to be willing and able to put ourselves on the edge of physical demands. Like Mike, who is a very cool guy when I see him doing this loop-de-loop video and flying upside down , then I say, ‘Okay, now I see where Shane gets it.’ ”
While Shane took the risk, Mike risked his life.
“I’ve managed to stay alive in this game, while I’ve lost 50 friends in this business since I started the airshow,” Mike Wiscus said. “It’s an extremely risky business in which I’m risky like Shane and his injuries. You have to watch it, you have to plan it. I think that’s part of the fun. Planning things and making sure that How are you going to do it. You have to prepare for it and be prepared for it.”
Shane, who could not be reached for this story, already had the Olympics on his mind before joining the Gophers program. The year-long delay of the Summer Games due to COVID-19 was not the only obstacle they have overcome.
The shuttering of the Gophers men’s gymnastics program hit Shane hard. “He loves his team,” Mike said. “He told a lot of newcomers who come, brag about (the program) and now he feels obliged – ‘Oh my god, I got these guys to come to school here and be part of the team and the school is pulling up. Get out from under it.’ The people he persuaded to come here; he felt he was part of disappointing them.”
Burns, Viskas and others devised a fundraising plan to keep the 118-year-old program alive but to no avail. To Mike Wiscus, it felt like Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle went back on his word.
Before Shane commits to Yu, Viscus meets with Coyle, and Mike directly asks Coyle if he plans to cut the program in the future. Will he invest in the features of the program? What else can u do to support Shane’s goal of making the Olympics?
Viscus overheard Coyle saying no to the cut, and weeks later Shane, one of the nation’s top high school recruits, was committed to Minnesota.
“Keep this in mind, too, we like the University of Minnesota too,” said Mike Wiskas. “I appreciate everything he has done in terms of his college experience and his classes in terms of getting his diploma. Thank you. I appreciate it. I don’t appreciate what happened to his athletic career. .
Coyle cited a budget shortfall of $40 million in the program without sports from March 2020 to October 2020, as well as the need to become Title IX compliant, as gymnastics was one of three men’s events.
Viscus was still able to go out with a strong senior year at the U. He was the NCAA champion on still rings and parallel bars, and second in all-around competition.
At the US Gymnastics Championships in June, Viscus fell three times during his high bar routine. It was difficult for Burns to see; Viskas represents the only Olympian he has coached in 41 years.
On the first fall, Shane’s head hits the mat, and when the mat is soft, Burns first thought there was a possible concussion. The second fall did not have much effect. But the third one was the most troublesome and won Viscus.
“He missed the first one, so we’re not going to repeat that,” Burns recalled. “He remembers the next one, and I’m like, ‘Uh oh.’ Then (on the third) I’m going, ‘Oh boy,’ and you start thinking how far he’s falling off the leader board. It’s like ‘Tin Cup’ when (actor Kevin Costner) trying to make a shot. And it’s going into the lake. It’s like ‘Let’s just lay down!’ ”
During the routine, NBC Sports commentators almost told Viscus that he should hang it up. One said on the broadcast, “Should do it right there, I’d definitely recommend him.”
“It was very devastating,” Burns said. “First of all you want to be around in the top six (in) because that’s automatic qualification for the Olympic Trials and the national team. After that, if you’re not in the top six, you’ll have to make a selection based on the points and laundry list of how they select the national team. For every consecutive fall, is he going to stay in the top six? uh oh. Will he have enough points? uh oh. Is he going to be selected? You can almost see the dream falling apart before your eyes.”
But Viscus stood up each time and ended his routine, descending. He received a warm applause from the limited crowd in Fort Worth, Texas. “The crowd is acknowledging the determination,” said one commenter. “good for him.”
Mike Wiscus was a bit more declarative.
“What a right thing,” he said. “You have to learn to be a good loser to be a great winner. In that case, you didn’t see him pulling his grip and throwing it, you didn’t see the rage of anger, you saw a young man when the coach says, ‘You’re done,’ Shane said, ‘no, I don’t, I’m going to finish. He finished, did the best he could. He made his landing, and what did he do? He Smiled, looked and left the crowd and left. You tell me. That’s what you want. I was so proud of what I saw my son do.”
That pride will swell again this weekend.