Acrobatics and Tumbling athlete proud of team's success

Shawna Uehara

Shawna Uehara took home the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association Most Outstanding Player award this year. It caps off a stellar Acrobatics and Tumbling career for the Hawai‘i Pacific University senior, who was among the program's first recruits.

After only three seasons, the Sharks are one of the emerging sport's top teams, advancing to the NCATA semi-finals two years straight. This year, HPU fell to No. 1 Baylor, the national champions.

"We might have not won, but we did the best we could. All our hard work paid off," Uehara said. Even HPU's rivals voiced support.

"It showed at the national championship when other teams were rooting for us," Uehara said. "That was awesome."

HPU still received several national individual awards and recognitions, including Uehara's. Originally from Waikele, she is no stranger to championships. At Kamehameha Schools Kapalama high school, Uehara was a state cheerleader of the year in 2012 and was part of Kamehameha's 2010 national champion cheer squad.

At Kamehameha Schools, Uehara was teammates with Keenyn Won. An Acrobatics and Tumbling veteran, Won was part of the Oregon Duck teams that won the NCATA Championship in 2011 and 2012. Won was tasked to build HPU's program that would start competing in spring 2014.

Uehara initially started college at a mainland school. When she decided to return to Hawaii to attend HPU, Uehara received a call from Won.

"She said, 'I'm starting a new program. I think you'll really like it,'" Uehara said. She joined Coach Won's team and began the nursing program at HPU.

Both turned out to be among her best decisions.

On the mainland, Uehara recalls big lecture halls. "With 400 people, you don't get to know your professors."

Adjusting to HPU "was not hard at all," Uehara said. The smaller class sizes meant closer bonds between teachers and students.

"They were very nice, friendly, welcoming. They want you to succeed."

Plus the fact Uehara competed in a top ranked sports program while studying in her home state "was exciting," she said with a smile.

"Until I joined this team, I didn't know how hard it was going to be. I've never lifted so much in my life. I've never worked out so much in my life."

As a base, Uehara lifts and catches teammates — an incredibly demanding job. "You have to be more mentally aware of what you're doing at all times."

Two semi-final appearances, award-winning individual athletes and a national reputation made the team's dedication worth it, Uehara said. She admits she will miss competing, but looks forward to seeing the Sharks continue their success.

"I'm super excited to see what the future brings. Our team knows what it feels like to be with the big dogs as opposed to looking up to them."

"I have high hopes for them, high expectations."