Mizuki uses injury issues as motivation, develops valuable leadership skills while sidelined


Mark Capapas the Daily Illini

Junior Mallory Mizuki poses on the high beam during the meet against Iowa on Jan. 31. Mizuki continues to train and improve both mentally and physically.

By Jonah Perez, Staff Writer

Nobody likes to lose what they’re passionate about. Junior Mallory Mizuki loves kayaking and traveling, but she was at her lowest when she lost gymnastics.
When Mizuki first arrived at Illinois, she was nervous and excited at the same time. Like any freshman, she wasn’t used to the amount of freedom and responsibility new college students receive their first day on campus.
She already had a foot injury she picked up during her club season in high school, so she started practice late.
In October 2019, she tore her right ACL during practice. She was out her whole freshman year and went through rehab and physical therapy like any athlete would. Then, the second ACL injury hit, this time on her other leg.
“Mallory has incredible maturity and dedication and determination,” said head coach Nadalie Walsh. “I think that when Mallory was out her first and second year with two separate ACL tears, she had a choice and an option to let the injury kind of overtake her and give her a sense of hopelessness. But instead, Mallory watched, paid attention and she learned from everybody around her so that she wouldn’t have to learn from … the same mistakes or the same processes.
“Mallory’s biggest victory comes from upping her mental game to be able to come back and trust her body and trust her gymnastics. So, I think that Mallory has always been an extremely talented athlete, but she’s actually better now than she even would have been her freshman and sophomore year, because her mental toughness is so much better, and she’s so much more mature than she was even a year or two ago.”
Mentally, it was challenging for Mizuki to come out of a hole of depression, but her support system pulled her out and refocused her on what really matters.
Cheering on and helping her teammates gave her a new perspective on what it means to be a gymnast, and now she really notices the difference.
“The system was amazing; mostly it was my team and back then we were able to hang out with each other without COVID-19, so I feel like that was something where I was able to be with my roommates and just other girls on the team,” Mizuki said. “We would hang out a lot, and they took my mind off of what I couldn’t do at the time and just kind of focused on everyone as a person. And I feel like our social group was very energetic, and that really helped me have a great support system along with the coaches.”
The support from her family was also big. Like a lot of athletes, their unconditional love is always appreciated and doesn’t discriminate based on how you are doing. Whether you’re at your low point or high point, they’re there no matter what.
This season, you can see how talented she is; in her two official times competing, she won the bars event title against No. 4 Michigan with a 9.900. She also had the highest Illini finish on bars at the Big Five meet with a 9.925. She hasn’t competed much, but whenever she’s been on the mat, she’s made a difference.
Focusing on her mentality this summer during the lockdown went a long way for her. Though she’s an upperclassman, it was still her first time competing at the collegiate level, so she had obvious nerves. The mental preparation this summer helped her performance and overall confidence.
“She’s very methodical,” Walsh said. “She knows exactly what she needs to do. She pays attention to the rest of her team, and she actually gives a lot of not coaching corrections, but she holds her teammates accountable better than anybody else on the team.
“She will catch somebody saying, ‘0h, I don’t know if I can do that.’ And she’ll say, ‘Well, that’s not the right mindset to have, is it?’ And so I think that her routine is, she focuses on what she needs to do, but she also pays attention to what’s going on around her.”
Something that developed throughout this season is Mizuki’s leadership. She’s always had the ability, but she didn’t think she could show it because she didn’t travel with the team and wasn’t competing on meet days.
Now, her being available all the time has made a big difference. She has the confidence to be vocal and lead by example. She feels the responsibility to bring the energy every day, whether it’s an on or an off day.
Before Mizuki started her freshman year at Illinois, there was a coaching change. A lot of people would have opened their recruitment back up, but she stuck with her commitment.
“Immediately when she (Walsh) was hired, she called me, and I could just tell she had a lot of energy and a lot of passion toward wanting to bring up this team and this new program,” Mizuki said. “I really stuck with her, and I believed in her, and I believe that she did the same with my other teammates.”
Another reason Mizuki decided to stick with Illinois was because of its engineering program. She’s a chemical engineering major, and Illinois has one of the best programs in the country.
It also helps to be super talented. Walsh knew Mizuki was already a verbal commit, and she was blown away once she watched Mizuki’s film. She killed it on the floor and was as consistent as they come. What caught her attention the most, however, was her vault performances, where she has the potential for a 10.000.
“Honestly, she does one of the hardest vaults in women’s gymnastics, so she’s getting pretty close to putting that out on the competition floor,” Walsh said. “It probably is so much fun for her to go out there and do something different than everybody else. And for her to just kind of have that extra sense of positive pride, like, ‘Hey, I am great, and I have a 10.000 vault, and I’m doing everything I can for my program and for my team.’”
This season Mizuki hasn’t run into many health-related problems, and while vault is her favorite, she usually trains all-around. It’s her favorite because of how fast it is, alongside how much power she has, which is necessary to excel in the event.
She may not be as superstitious as she used to be, but a lot of athletes have some sort of routine they follow.
“Normally I am very relaxed the night before (a meet), and I don’t really do a lot, but this season I’ve been wearing … the first Illinois shirt that I ever got,” Mizuki said. “I wear that to bed every night before the meet . . . It’s a big orange shirt and it says Illinois . . . It was thrown to me at my first Illinois football game.”

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