Special to Um News
Carolyn Kienstra, M.D., a pediatric sports medicine physician at UHealth Sports Medicine, is living a dream.
“Olympic gymnastics is the reason I fell in love with sports,” said Kienstra. “I have become a fan of and participant in many other sports over the years, but gymnastics has always been my first love.”
The opportunity to travel to Rio de Janeiro and volunteer as a physician for the athletes is a privilege for any doctor, but to be able to work with the gymnastics events makes it extra special for Kienstra.
“It has been an amazing experience,” Kienstra said. “Every day I think to myself, I can’t believe I am really doing this.”
Kienstra fell in love with gymnastics in the summer of 1992, when the young women of Team USA won a bronze medal and Shannon Miller took home five medals, a feat that had not been accomplished since Mary Lou Retton. Kienstra continued to follow gymnastics, and her love of the sport grew.
Over the next four years, Kienstra and her younger sister started taking gymnastics lessons, watched any gymnastics events they could find on TV, and when that wasn’t an option, they watched replays carefully recorded on VHS tapes.
“My parents really thought we would wear out the tape from the end of the team final in Barcelona,” she said. “We had it memorized word for word. I can actually still remember most of it to this day.”
By the time the Olympics came around again in 1996, Kienstra had become a huge fan. She collected anything she could find associated with the Olympics or gymnastics, including Wheaties boxes, Cabbage Patch dolls and lots of magazines and articles. She even decorated her entire room in red, white and blue.
When the U.S. team, dubbed the Magnificent Seven, earned the first Olympic team all-around gold medal in U.S. gymnastics history in Atlanta, she was watching and cheering for every move.
“It was such a magical night for the team,” Kienstra said.
Kienstra’s love of the sport made the opportunity to cover gymnastics at the Olympics all the more special.
“I can’t believe this opportunity came together as it did,” Kienstra said. “Months ago, when UHealth was first approached to volunteer in Rio, we were all very excited, but we didn’t really know what role we would be playing. Then, a few weeks ago, when I was found out I would get to work with gymnastics, I couldn’t believe it.”
Kienstra has been making the most of her time in Rio, seeing the sites with colleagues and taking in events such as the Opening Ceremony, where she was caught photobombing the Team USA men’s basketball team by USA Today.
“Being at the Opening Ceremony was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” she said. She is also hoping to see some of the other competitions, including swimming and diving, but gymnastics is still tops on her list.
“I think I spent about 12 hours in the Rio Arena the first day of the women’s qualification just taking it all in,” she said. “As a doctor, I was watching the competition floor for injuries, but I was also a spectator and fan.
“It’s something I’ll never forget, and I’m so proud to share this experience with family, friends and my UHealth colleagues. I’m very grateful for all they have done to organize and make this possible. It is definitely a dream come true.”