Once feeling like she’d lost her balance in life, Adeline Kenlin stuck the landing last spring on college gymnastics’ biggest stage. The Iowa City native flashed a huge smile and pumped her fist after a runner-up performance behind Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee in the balance beam at the NCAA championships in Fort Worth, Texas. Kenlin’s celebration reflected her renewed love for the sport after struggling with the demands of elite gymnastics in high school. This spring, the UI junior is again vying for an NCAA championship.
Iowa Magazine talked to Kenlin about the pressure of competitive sports, rediscovering joy in gymnastics, and her dreams beyond graduation.
It was very hard mentally and physically, and I couldn’t keep up with them both at the same time. During the end of my elite career, I broke my hip, heel, and toe, and had ongoing ankle pain.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I did home school for the entire year—so I never saw my friends outside of the gym. I was in the gym from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and some nights I would work until 8 p.m. So, I never had a social life. I still had friends outside, but it was not the same.
I fell in love with the sport again. In the second semester of my junior year [of high school], I came back to school and felt a lot more balanced in life. That completeness has really helped me throughout the rest of my career.
I know how my body works and how my brain works, and I know how many reps I need to feel confident in myself. I think that’s what college gymnastics is about—getting mentally prepared because all these skills are skills you’ve been doing since you were 10. It’s like riding a bike, once you know what to do mentally, you can do it physically in your sleep.
It’s amazing. We’re really excited to have it back home, because we only get to host it once every 10 years, so it’s a really exciting moment.
I’ve not thought about going back. This is where I want to be because I’m so happy, and I know I would not have the same amount of happiness in elite.
I want to coach at the collegiate level. I’ve been coaching since I was 14 years old, and gymnastics is all I know. I just want to be that coach that I never had growing up to help lead kids to the path that is best for them.