Alex and Maia Shibutani, like most kids growing up in Connecticut, laced up their first pairs of ice skates at a young age. Both trained individually as competitive figure skaters before discovering the discipline of Ice Dancing on a family trip to the 2003 World Championships in Washington, D.C.
“We were especially impressed by the skating quality, speed and performance shown by the Ice Dance teams,” Maia said via phone during a training break in Ann Arbor, Mich. “The idea of skating together sounded like fun, so we decided to give it a try.”
The brother-and-sister duo, affectionately known as the ShibSibs, paired up the next year – Alex was 12 and Maia 9 – and haven’t looked back since. They have medaled at the U.S. Championships 13 consecutive years and won the senior title in 2016 and 2017.
Now, the ShibSibs are gearing up for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where they hope to make their second Olympic appearance and serve as Minute Maid brand ambassadors. Alex and Maia personify Minute Maid’s “Put good in. Get good out” mantra, which applies to families just as much as it does juice.
Above all, the Shibutani story is a story of family. They're a tight-knit team that supports each other on and off the ice. Alex and Maia’s parents have made countless sacrifices to support their kids throughout their Ice Dancing journey.
“When we came in second at our very first U.S. Championships, it was clear that we showed promise,” Alex, 26, recalls. “So at that point, in 2005, our parents made the decision to move to Colorado Springs so we could have access to the best coaching and training environment that would help us grow and get better.”
Maia, 23, adds, “Our parents played such a key role in allowing us to pursue our dreams and follow our hearts – from those first competitions to the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Walking into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony and knowing they were in the stands was an unforgettable experience. We feel incredibly lucky to have such a strong family… it’s so special to have this experience as siblings and also to have our parents’ unconditional support and belief in us. They’ve been with us every step of the way.”
Sibling duos are a rarity in the ice skating world, a dynamic the ShibSibs say gives them an edge on the ice.
“We have a lot of trust in each other,” Alex says. “And as we’ve gotten more experienced and refined our styles, communication skills and problem-solving abilities over our 14 years of skating together, we’ve found ways to utilize each other’s strengths. With Ice Dance, all our training and preparation comes down to programs that are only three to four minutes long – so nerves can come into play. But because Maia and I know each other so well, there’s a unique quality to our relationship we see as a competitive asset.”
Maia says their sibling story has resonated with fans, too. “The bond of family is universally relatable, and is something people really connect to,” she adds.
The ShibSibs’ personalities come to life on social media where they’ve amassed a loyal legion of followers. Alex and Maia grew up blogging and taking photos, and see their social presence as an extension of these passions. Their YouTube channel, “ShibSibs,” which launched in 2012, features a steady stream of scripted and unscripted videos that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the ShibSibs’ lives on and off the ice – from how they develop their music for their routines, to their international travels.
“We’ve always been interested in storytelling,” says Alex, who edits the duo’s videos. “As a kid, I wanted to be a sports journalist, and Maia liked taking photos, so this is a fun way to combine our passions. We loved watching figure skating on TV growing up, but we never got a sense of who the athletes were off the ice. Social media allows us do that.”
“Some have followed our journey from the beginning and watched us grow up,” Alex said. “The reaction we’ve seen from young skaters and people who have discovered figure skating through our videos has been amazing. We feel a responsibility to break through barriers and share our sport – and the Olympic values – with people from all backgrounds in a way that’s creative and true to ourselves."