Chris and Naomi Shibutani, the parents of skating siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, are artistic, but they do not have athletic backgrounds. However, they have sacrificed greatly as a family for their children’s Olympic dreams, giving up a dream house and enduring separations and commutes.
Maia and Alex, the charming U.S. ice dancing brother and sister, are competing in PyeongChang during the 2018 Winter Olympics. That has a lot of people wondering about their family. The siblings are open about their personal lives as they have a popular YouTube channel. They’ve been dancing on ice together since Alex was 12 and Maia was 9. She is now 23, and he is 26.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Shibutani Parents Are Musicians Who Met at Harvard
Talent runs in the Shibutani family. Both of the Shibutani parents are accomplished musicians. “Chris and Naomi, met as Harvard musicians. Dad played the flute, and Mom was a concert pianist,” reports ESPN.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the parents were studying music at Harvard. “Alex was born in Boston, Maia was born in New York City and they started skating in 1998,” the newspaper reports.
“Their parents, Naomi and Chris, had met at Harvard as members of the student orchestra and retained a deep appreciation for music and performance,” The Ringer reported. However, Chris worked as an anesthesiologist before switching into finance for a career, according to his LinkedIn page. Chris Shibutani’s LinkedIn page confirms he was a flutist in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra from 1981 to 1985 and was assistant conductor for the Harvard Ensemble Society (Chamber Music). Naomi’s name is Naomi Uyemura.
Chris was a student of Julius Baker of the Juilliard faculty and Lois Schaefer of the New England Conservatory faculty and Albert Tipton of the Aspen Music Festival. He performed at Carnegie Hall. He has recorded studio and soundtrack recordings with WGBH/Boston.
2. Chris Skated for Fun But the Parents Aren’t Athletes & the Father Commuted to See His Family
Maia and Alex obviously inherited athletic gifts, but it’s not clear whether it stemmed from their parents. “Our parents were not serious athletes,” Alex said to ESPN. “Dad skated recreationally on a pond.”
Like many ice skating families, the Shibutanis have endured sacrifice and separation for their children’s Olympic dreams. The family had achieved success in Greenwich, Connecticut, where Chris Shibutani made a good living in finance and the family had a dream home, according to The Detroit Free Press. However, to further their children’s careers, the parents made the decision that the siblings and their mother would move to Colorado Springs to train, according to the newspaper. The family then ended up in Michigan.
Giving up the Greenwich home was tough, Chris told Time: “This was the house they Maia and Alex were going to come home to during Thanksgiving break from college, and we were going to live in for 30 years, just like our parents did in their generation.”
Along the way, Chris endured frequent and lengthy commutes between jobs and to see his family, according to The Free Press. At one point, “he worked in New York during the week and commuted nearly 1,800 miles to Colorado Springs every weekend,” the newspaper reported, quoting Naomi as saying, “No, it wasn’t easy, especially for him, flying back and forth. Physically, it’s tiring.”
Chris Shibutani’s LinkedIn page says he has “over 19 years of experience in Healthcare Equity Research on both the sell and buy side. Subindustry coverage experience spans Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, Medical Devices and the Life Science Tools industries.” He is a senior analyst and managing director of Biotechnology Equity Research in Boston for Cowen Group, Inc. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Harvard. He previously worked as a senior healthcare analyst, a portfolio manager in asset management, and as an anesthesiologist at a cancer center in New York. He was a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School.
3. The Siblings Posted a Tribute to Their Mom on Their Vlog
The Shibutani siblings have quite a following on YouTube, and they posted a tribute to their mother entitled, “Our mom.” You can watch it above. Their videos are posted under the name ShibSibs. You can find their channel here. Their YouTube channel launched in 2012.
According to MLive, the parents moved the family to Ann Arbor, Michigan because they wanted the brother and sister to start thinking about their educational futures after skating. “It’s a sport, and you never know what happens,” Naomi Shibutani said to MLive. “So he (Alex) wanted to have options to go to college as well as train.”
According to Max Preps, “Alex is currently enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he is interested in television, film, communications and sports management.”
4. Maia Started Skating First After Naomi Played Music Around the House, Sparking Her Interest in Ice Dancing
Maia started skating before her brother, and her mother helped spark the interest because she “always had some kind of music playing when the family was getting ready for dinner at their home, first in Boston, then in Connecticut – classical, jazz, contemporary, it didn’t matter,” Time Magazine reports.
“After Maia learned to skate at birthday parties, she took to freestyling on the ice to lengthy CDs that Naomi put together for her,” according to Time. “People who saw her would ask, ‘Who choreographed a 20-minute program for a six-year-old?’” Chris told Time Magazine of the then six-year-old.
Although her mom’s love of music may have helped inspire Maia’s love of dance, her dad actually took her on the ice first. “The first time I went skating, I was with my dad and brother, Alex,” Maia told The Klog. “Although I don’t remember everything about that first experience, I remember having a lot of fun. Later, I began taking group lessons with a coach at our local rink. I loved being on the ice, so I asked my parents for private lessons very early on.”
5. Chris Says the Siblings Can Be Competitive
In an interview with the Today Show, Chris Shibutani said the siblings can be competitive. “Being brother and sister has certainly been challenging at times. Maia and Alex have very different personalities and strengths, yet they have come to realize that they … depend on each other,” Chris Shibutani told Today.
Alex has said the sibling connection helps the pair on the ice. “Obviously there are a lot of teams out there that will say they have a lot of trust, regardless of their relationship, but mine, I know concretely that we’re going to have our bond for life,” he said.
Maia told The Klog that her mother helps her with more than skating. “Ever since I can remember, my mom always reminded me about the importance of sunscreen. We both have freckles, and if I didn’t wear sunscreen, I’d probably have a lot more,” she said to the blog.