Special Olympics Gold, Bronze
Speed Skater Tommy Shimoda
Honored as Chicago Sports Hall of Famer
- Interview with the Shimoda Family
Tommy Shimoda, son of Chicago dentist Dr. Thomas Shimoda, was recently inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2017 after winning the gold and bronze medals in speed skating in the Special Olympics held in Austria back in March. The formal induction ceremony will be held at the McCormick Square’s Wintrust Arena in Chicago on October 2.
Shimoda, 24, won the gold medal in the 500-meter race at 1:11.035 and the bronze in the 777-meter race at 1:56.903. He was the only athlete from the city of Chicago to qualify to compete in the Games. In July, he was also awarded the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Award, which is presented to individual athletes and sports teams for exceptional performance.
Shimoda was diagnosed with autism when he was a child, and cannot communicate verbally. During a recent interview along with his parents, Dr. Shimoda and Barbara Shimoda, Shimoda answered questions via an advanced voice output communication device, which he uses to communicate on a daily basis.
Q: How did Tommy start playing sports?
Barbara: He was a very energetic child, full of life, and
he liked water. So the first thing we did was teach him how to swim.
Tommy (via the voice output communication device): I now play more than 15 sports. I do gymnastics, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, bowling and many more. I started skating when I was 12 at the Mount Greenwood Park.
Q: Barbara, did you recognize his talent in sports right away?
Barbara: I recognized that Tommy likes to be active. He likes
to keep busy. When you give him a task, he stays at it. So playing sports
was just a natural fit for him.
Q: How did he qualify for the Special Olympics?
Barbara: If I may say so as his mother, he is a very fast skater. He won all the three qualifying events. The USA team gave the state of Illinois only one speed skating slot, and Tommy was just lucky to win that spot.
Q: Tommy, you first won the bronze at the 777-meter race. Did you then feel that you must win the 500-meter, which you ended up winning the gold? How did you feel?
Tommy: Speed skating. Fast.
Thomas: In the past, Tommy let his friend win in a race because he didn’t want to beat him, didn’t want to make him sad. Now he was representing the U.S., so I said to him: “You have to skate fast; you have to try to win.”
Barbara: In that race, Tommy competed against another American skater. The coach said Tommy is a strong starter and his competitor is a strong finisher. Tommy shut out the competitor, skating like a rocket. He likes a short track, so it was a good race for him.
Q: Tommy, you made it. How did you feel when you won the gold?
Tommy: I was very happy when I won the gold and the bronze in the world games. I know I did my best.
Q: Did you all go to Austria to see the games?
Thomas: Barbara, my other son Clark, and his girlfriend did. I stayed home and worked to pay for their trip – only the participating athletes get to travel for free.
Barbara: We were in Austria for two whole weeks. Tommy traveled
with the Team USA, and it was part of the challenge for him, to travel with
strangers and take care of himself, completely separated from his parents
for full two weeks.
Q: What is your family support like for him?
Barbara: Tommy is a very nice young man. If he likes doing
something or going somewhere, we coordinate a schedule so he can do it. We
are lucky we have only two children; it’s easy for us to coordinate. Sometimes
I drop him off and pick him up, sometimes Dad drives him and I pick him up.
The arrangement is that one of us is always available for whoever needs us.
Clark is now in college so we don’t have to worry about him so much.
Thomas: Barbara has all the credit because she found out
different sports I didn’t know anything about. All I knew was judo and wrestling.
Barbara: I think that was a team effort by our family. Clark pitches into it, too, driving to hockey practice and helping the coach. He enjoys it on ice, too.
Q: How did Tommy overcome autism?
Barbara: It was his energy level in which his autism became
most evident. If your child has a lot of energy, then you have to find a way
to channel that energy. Tommy needed assistance to communicate. The biggest
challenge for us was to find the best way to help him communicate.
Thomas: [when Tommy was a little boy] the sign language wasn’t right for us – nobody seemed to understand it. The earlier communication device was this laptop-size machine that cost $50,000 and was still primitive. A speech pathologist helped us find this streamlined device he uses now; its technology is only four and half years old. The previous machine he used weighed 7 pounds and was cumbersome to carry around all day.
Q: Tommy, tell us about your future plans.
Tommy: Water polo.
Barbara: That’s for the next summer, right? Didn’t you mention gymnastics?
Barbara: It’s all up to him as to what to challenge next.
If you give him a new task, either new sport or something to do, he is on
it. Like water polo he started this summer. It was his first experience in
the sport. So, anything new is always a nice experience.
The Story of the Shimoda Family
Tommy’s parents, Dr. Thomas Shimoda and Barbara Shimoda,
met through a mutual friend when they were dental school students. One day,
Thomas fixed Barbara’s car. Eventually they got married.
Tommy Shimoda in a race
Tommy Shimoda holds his Gold Medal
The Shimoda family