“You’re here at the University of Iowa to do school and find out who you are as a person, and then gymnastics comes after, and that’s where you have your fun.” – Adeline Kenlin

Just Iowa’s Adeline Kenlin Being Amazing!

By Christy Sandmaier

Even though her voice is a little hoarse from yelling encouragement to summer campers the week before, Adeline Kenlin is still super hyped up on a Monday morning. Chatting about all things gymnastics – NCAA and Elite – why she loves being a student athlete at Iowa, and how visiting Lake Louise in Alberta should be added to everyone’s bucket list, I learned very quickly just how much her perspective on gymnastics has changed through the years and how excited she is for the future. 

With the Hawkeyes very much on the rise after a record-setting 2022 season where they finished ranked 15th nationally (their highest final ranking since 2004), and advanced to the NCAA Regional Final for the first time in the current format, Adeline is helping lead a team that together, could very well challenge for the top spots in the Big 10 and beyond. 

Anything is possible and that’s exactly the way she likes it.

A member of the Junior U.S. National Team in 2017, among Adeline’s many accolades as a Hawkeye include earning first-team All-American honors at the 2022 NCAA Championships becoming the sixth such All-American in program history to do so. She is the first Hawkeye since 2017 to advance to the NCAA Championships and only the 11th Iowa gymnast all-time. In addition, she’s the recipient of the “Best Play” Golden Herky Award, was I-SAAS April Student-Athlete of the Month in 2022 (she’s majoring in sport and recreation management) and is Academic All-Big Ten. 

As an Elite, what seemed like constant and untimely injuries held her back. But since landing in Iowa, Adeline’s truly made a statement with her trademark beautiful technique and picture perfect gymnastics – both on display throughout the season and culminating in a second place finish on beam (tied with Mizzou’s Sienna Schreiber with a 9.95) in Fort Worth at the NCAA Championships, right behind Olympic All-Around gold medalist Suni Lee.

From what she did on her summer vacation, to being spontaneous, to where she sees her Hawkeye program heading into her junior year, we can tell you she’s one hundred percent all in as a leader, teammate and student athlete striving for the top! 

Take me through your 2022 season – highlights for you and the team, and for you individually, getting second on beam at NCAAs! 

It’s always a big opportunity to be with Iowa gymnastics. I’m forever grateful for them. They treat me like family and I always feel like I’m at home there. No matter what differences we have, we’re always going to trust each other. We always stick together. And, I think our biggest accomplishment is getting through each meet together and not putting all the pressure on each other when one person goes up. I think that’s really big for our team. I think my individual accomplishment is second place at Nationals, which is really great. 

The team itself had a record season! How much does that inspire you going forward?

It really fires me up! And I think everyone, too, because we know that we belong in the top 16 now. Last year, sometimes we didn’t even know if we belonged in the top 16, top 20 even. So now we know and that’s what we’re aiming for every year now. Hopefully top eight, too!

I know you said you’ve been working at a camp, so for people who don’t know, tell us a little bit about what summer is like for a student athlete! 

Training is always voluntary. So we have a group of, I think seven girls that are here in Iowa City right now, and some of them come for camp just to work it and see because we have some [class of] 24 recruits coming. We always want to meet them and see what their gymnastics is like as well! Some of us come back for camp and then go back home, but most of us that are here train from 9:30 a.m. to eleven or noon almost every day, like three or four times a week, which is always great. And then some of us do school in the summer. I know most of our freshmen do, so they can come early and explore the campus a little bit without the hassle of all the other students, which is very nice. With COVID, I did not get to do that, but I’ve lived in Iowa City all my life, so I know the campus very well. I’m taking two courses right now, one with the University of Iowa, and then I’m also taking a community college course. Some people just take some time off from school and they relax and just focus on gymnastics.

One of the great things about NCAA gymnastics is you all can spend your summer individually doing what you need to do to either recover or learn new skills. Whereas in Elite, that’s not ever an option…

No, you don’t get a day off ever! (laughs) 

So for you, are you doing a lot of conditioning? Are there new skills that you’ve been trying out?

Well, we do conditioning every day. We still go and we lift weights twice a week if we can. But I am working on some new bar skills! I had a Jaeger before I came to college and then I just stuck with my Maloney Pak. So I’ve been training piked Jaegers. Hopefully, that will be in the routine next year! Maybe piked Jaeger+bail or piked Jaeger+Pak, something like that. So I always have that as a backup. And then on beam I’m training a triple flight, a back handspring layout step out+layout step out. And I was training a little bit at the beginning of summer, an aerial [to] layout step out. 

You had a different year [as a freshman] because you had the COVID year, so how was that for you, not necessarily getting the early opportunities and “typical” college experience? 

I honestly don’t know anything different! Last year, too, we didn’t have any freshmen come in for summer classes because of COVID. So, this year is kind of brand new for everyone. Because our seniors, they did come in early and they did classes in the summer, and then my class didn’t, and then the class after me didn’t, and then finally [the freshmen are] coming in again and doing classes. So it’s a little bit different for everyone. 

Your head coach Larissa Libby has talked a lot about your leadership skills on and off the floor. Where do you think that comes from and do you see yourself in a leadership role?

Yes, I do see myself in a leadership role, and I think that comes from always being the older kid in the gym and club, because I am someone that the little girls looked up to and they all wanted to be like. So always being a leader from the age of like 10 until now, I think it’s really helped shape me.

Is that something you enjoy then? Being the leader and giving advice to the younger ones?

I do, yes!

If we could jump back for a minute to your Elite career, you have said a little bit in the past about the mental, emotional and physical toll Elite takes on the athletes. Are there things you’ve thought about now that you’ve been a part of college gymnastics, that you wish were a part of Elite, in the sense that you wish the coaches had done more of, or USA Gymnastics had done more of?… If you could write a letter to all of those people, what would you say?

I think taking injuries more seriously is always a big part because Elites are always pushing through injuries. Like, ‘Oh, you sprained your ankle? Okay, let’s take a couple of days off and get back to it and do routines.’ So really limiting skills and numbers if you’re injured really helps because now in college, if we are injured or hurting, we always go see the trainer, we take it back for like a week, maybe even more, because we have a whole team to pick us up. 

And I think that also having a team with me now is a big part of what Elite should be because you’re mostly all individual, and that’s always scary when you’re going into a meet all by yourself. Like, yes, you know other people, but you don’t train with them every day. You don’t know how they work, you don’t know the mental issues that they may be having, too. So injuries and teamwork have really been a big change from Elite to now.

And I know hindsight is always 20/20, but do you think that having those things could have extended your Elite career at all?

Yes, I do think so. My last couple of years of Elite, I was injured for most of it, and then the injuries turned into mental blocks because I thought I was going to get hurt or I thought it was going to hurt. So that’s where I think most of my mental blocks came from –  because of the injuries. 

You have gorgeous gymnastics, and so much potential as an Elite for Team USA. And then the injuries happened, so it was just such a joy to see you come back in college and see the smile on your face. What’s the absolute best part of college gymnastics for you?

I think being with the team because I’ve never had a team experience, so having a bunch of people around me that know how I work, that know me as more than a gymnast, is like, really big.

Who are some of your role models, maybe growing up and then maybe still now, today, that you’re either following their careers, or even amazing advice that you’ve gotten?

I always looked up to Shawn Johnson because she was from Iowa, so that always stuck with me. I’m another Iowan, so I thought I was going to follow her path and I really tried to. She’s always been someone I look up to, but more recently, I think I love Margzetta Frazier. She’s always so happy, has a big personality, and even outside of the gym with social justice issues, female athlete empowerment, that too. That’s always big.

For us to watch you all as 14 and 15 year-olds and seeing you become these amazing, powerful women, is just amazing. And I love that you’re all using your voices AND that you feel comfortable doing it…

I think the college platform gives you a little bit more room to say what you want and to express your opinion, which is always good!

So for gymnasts starting to embark on this NCAA journey – and they start looking at schools younger and younger now – what would you say to them about that journey? And then in particular, what was it about Iowa that really drew you to their program?

What we tell our recruits is always to make sure that you like the school apart from the gymnastics side, because you are going there for academics first and then gymnastics second. 

If you love the team but you don’t like the academic part of it, or they don’t have research or any field that you want to go into, I would suggest not picking that school because academics should come first. And Larissa always makes that a big part of our team culture. Like us as a person comes first, then school, and then gymnastics comes third. You’re here at the University of Iowa to do school and find out who you are as a person, and then gymnastics comes after, and that’s where you have your fun.

Like you said before, the team is really the best part. As far as team activities outside of the gym, what do you guys do to bond and build that camaraderie all year? 

Almost all of us, except for the freshmen, live in one single apartment building. It’s basically like we’re still in the dorms together, and we have a pool, so we like to hang out at the pool. We like to walk around downtown, go out to eat with each other, and lay out on what we call the pentacrest, which is like, the five buildings downtown. Just spend time with each other, watch movies, anything and everything together.

What kind of pressure do you think that NIL has added for student athletes? What are the good things that you see that could come out of it and maybe the challenges that you’re seeing?

The good thing I see is more publicity for the sport of gymnastics, because gymnastics wasn’t really known until I think Katelyn Ohashi really stepped it up for UCLA. And then people were like, ‘Wow, gymnastics is actually amazing! Everyone’s having fun!’ So I think that’s always a big part. But then a downside to NIL is going to the school for that reason. I don’t have any NIL deals, and I don’t really plan to. If they come my way, great. But that’s not the only reason I’m in school.

It looks like from your Instagram, you’ve done a little bit of traveling recently! Tell me about your summer break and what you’ve been able to do!

So one night, me and my teammate that lives directly below me, Linda Zivat, we decided, like, ‘oh, my roommate lives in Florida. Should we go visit her?’ At, like, 8 p.m. And we’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ So we called her and we called her mom to make sure it was okay. And at 3 a.m. the next morning, we drove down just spontaneously. I just got a dog, so we brought my dog and she slept the entire ride. It was about 19 hours there. We hung out on the beach, we ate some good seafood, and we went fishing. We caught a tarpon and it was ginormous! It is nothing like the fish you catch in Iowa. And then we came back like a week later. 19 hours again (laughs).

About two weeks later, I left for my “senior trip” from high school. Because of COVID, we had to delay it by two years. So I finally went on my senior trip to Alberta, Canada. And we stayed at the hotel right on Lake Louise. And it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Oh, gosh, I can’t even describe! The pictures don’t even do it justice. It’s really a bucket list spot that you have to go to. I’ve never been able to travel and never been able to do anything like that. So it’s great to be spontaneous and then finally get to travel outside of the country for more than gymnastics, which is really fun!

Going into next season what are you most hyped up about for the team?

Honestly, I love competition season, so I cannot wait to get back to the bows, the glitter, the tattoos, the leotards, and all the fans! We had, I think our program record of fans come this year. So to see everyone come and just watch us perform, compete, have fun, show, like, what gymnastics should be and what it should be like, it’s just great. And I love to see it! And then the little kids who come and watch the meets are like ‘Oh my gosh, I love gymnastics. I want to do this when I’m older. I want to go to Iowa. I want to be on the team with them.’ It’s just great to see. I cannot wait for next year!

Photos by Lloyd Smith and Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics; University of Iowa

For more:

2022 NCAA Headquarters

Breaking Boundaries

College State of Mind

Norah Flatley Readies for New Chapter

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