Junior Adeline Kenlin learning teamwork through Iowa women’s gymnastics

After spending years practicing and performing alone, Kenlin’s time with the GymHawks has taught her how to bring her best self forward for her team.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa’s Alexa Ebeling (left) listens to Iowa’s Adeline Kenlin (right) before competing on beam during a gymnastics meet between No. 18 Iowa and Rutgers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 196.200-195.125.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Assistant Digital Editor

Depending on the gym’s culture, gymnastics can be a lonely sport.

When Iowa junior Adeline Kenlin was competing in club gymnastics, she understood this loneliness. Kenlin said she spent years practicing and competing alone throughout the elite growth process.

So, when Kenlin decided to pursue college gymnastics, she said she didn’t know how to adapt to having teammates.

“It was insanely weird, because I had 20 other girls on the team who all had my back, and I was supposed to have theirs right away,” Kenlin said. “It took a little bit of time.”

After a few years with the team, Kenlin is now known as the teammate who is constantly cheering on her peers and keeping morale up.

“She’s constantly the example,” head coach Larissa Libby said. “She never stays on a down-swing. She always comes back into the gym and tries to put her best foot forward, even when she doesn’t feel great.”

Although Kenlin has several teammates constantly looking up to her, she said she never feels any pressure.

Kenlin said she knows she is allowed to have bad days, and her team will always have her back.

“Honestly, it has helped me tremendously with my gymnastics,” Kenlin said. “Whenever I’m having a bad day, one of the 20 people — if not more — knows how to come and cheer me up. It’s really amazing to have that support.”

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In a sport where the risk of injury is high and the athletes are constantly rotating their entire bodies, maintaining mental fortitude is difficult.

Kenlin said she has overcome many injuries and has had to undergo surgery several times during her career.

“It’s life and death every day,” Kenlin said. “I think that gymnasts have to be so mentally strong. Otherwise, they will not be able to do the sport anymore, and I’ve had to learn that.”

Even though Kenlin had garnered attention for her skills in gymnastics since she was a toddler, the Iowa City native said she knew she had to take a step back. She needed to focus on herself instead of trying to compete in the Olympics and world championships at such a young age.

“It came down to injuries and my mental health at the end,” Kenlin said. “I didn’t need to go to the Olympics like everyone else wanted me to — like I wanted to — but I was like, ‘I need to do what’s best for me.’”

Kenlin has still excelled at Iowa and has grown with a healthier mindset. During the 2022 NCAA Championships, Kenlin finished second to Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee, scoring a 9.95 on beam — the highest finish by an individual at the NCAA meet in Iowa history. Lee earned a  9.965.

Despite the positive culture Kenlin has found with the Hawkeyes, there are moments of struggle, which is typical for gymnasts.

“She has her own personal demons and mental demons that she’s got to deal with in her head,” Libby said. “We all do as gymnasts.”

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Libby said the most frequent issue that she sees in her gymnasts is the mental block, which is commonly known as “boxing.” Many coaches tend to use fear to get gymnasts over their mental block, but Libby said she does not believe in that method.

Rather than yelling at her athletes, Libby said she works with them in a positive way. Kenlin said she occasionally faces these same mental blocks. But through positive coaching and supportive teammates, she has been able to push past those struggles.

“She puts more pressure on herself than anybody else does,” Libby said of Kenlin. “We just do our best to try and work with it and have them still leave the gym feeling like they did something to get them out of it or to move past it and hope for a better day the next day.”

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