People & Places

Cedar Rapids mother and daughter ready for 'once-in-a-lifetime' trip to Olympics

Deb and Kirsten Siebenga plan to see swimming, track and volleyball

From left, Mike Finn, Deb Siebenga and Kirsten Siebenga pose for a picture in front of a banner with the Olympic rings at Viola Gibson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
From left, Mike Finn, Deb Siebenga and Kirsten Siebenga pose for a picture in front of a banner with the Olympic rings at Viola Gibson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — As a young girl, Kirsten Siebenga dreamed of one day swimming in the Olympics.

As time went by, that dream changed a bit. Siebenga and her mother, Deb, dreamed of seeing the Olympics in person.

That dream comes true next week as the Cedar Rapids mother-daughter duo flies out of The Eastern Iowa Airport and heads to Rio de Janeiro and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“It’s kind of like our Super Bowl,” said Deb Siebenga, 53, a teacher at Franklin Middle School. “It’s been on our bucket list for years and once the opportunity came, we just couldn’t pass it up.”

While in Rio, the Siebengas plan to take in some of the swimming events, including the 50-meter women’s freestyle final on Aug. 13, which is likely to include Americans Abbey Weitzel and Simone Manuel, as well as Australia’s Cate Campbell, the second fastest 50-meter freestyler ever.

Getting to see Olympic swimming events is particularly meaningful to Kirsten Siebenga, 19, who owns the 50-yard freestyle record at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids and plans to continue her swimming career this fall at Minnesota State University-Mankato.

“Kirsten is obviously very interested in swimming and I love watching swimming,” said Deb Siebenga. “It was kind of like a dream. Even when she was 7 or 8, we talked about it and thought maybe one day she would swim at the Olympics.


“Of course, she’s not swimming, but we get to go watch it, which is the next best thing.”

Deb Siebenga said she and her daughter plan to do everything they can to make lasting memories.

“We’re hoping to go down to the water and actually touch it,” she said. “We’re never going to get back there, probably, so we’re going to make the most of it.”

The Siebengas also plan to see the men’s 400-meter dash and women’s 800-meter run at the track and field stadium and some beach volleyball at the city’s famous Copacabana Beach.

The idea of heading to South America was planted thanks to Deb Siebenga’s boyfriend Mike Finn, of North Liberty.

Finn is editor of WIN Magazine, which is dedicated to coverage of wrestling at all levels. He’s been hired by NBC to help prep the wrestling commentary team with background and information on the wrestlers, a duty he’s taken on during two prior Olympic Games. This is the second time he’ll be there in person.

“I’ll be sitting by the announcer as he’s describing the action,” Finn said, adding Eastern Iowans should not expect to see him on camera.

“I’m not that cute,” he said with a laugh.

In preparing for the trip, Deb Siebenga said she and her daughter made a trip to the University of Iowa’s Travel Medicine Clinic.

“We got hepatitis A shots, took pills for typhoid fever and then they sent us with medicine in case we get sick,” Deb Siebenga said. “We’re not supposed to drink the water and we’re also not supposed to eat salads — only fruits you can peel and things well cooked.”


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Siebenga said she and Kirsten are staying in the NBC hotel, so “things should be up to par.”

None of the locals say they are overly concerned about safety and security issues.

“For me, it’s like going to New York City,” said Finn, 61. “There’s places you don’t go in New York City because you’re going to get robbed or mugged or whatever, so you’ve just got to be smart.

“Even in Beijing, where I really felt like a minority because I don’t speak Chinese, you realize you’ve just got to be smart and use your judgment. For the most part, I find people at the Olympics to be very friendly.”

Deb Siebenga said this is her first trip out of the country in a long time and Kirsten’s first. To pull it off, she’s planning to miss the first few professional workdays of the new school year. She said it will all be worth it when she returns with photos and stories she hopes to integrate into her lesson plans.

She said she expects to be a bit road weary by the time she begins teaching again on Aug. 23. She thinks the same is going to be true for Kirsten, who goes back to school on Aug. 22.

“What a way to go into the school year,” she said.

As far as securing tickets to this year’s Olympics, Deb Siebenga said beach volleyball and track were a snap — she got them online through the Olympics website.

Swimming was a bit more difficult.

“I had to go through another StubHub-type website because they were all sold out,” she said. “Swimming tickets were like $400 each. The others were a couple hundred.

“But it was worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”



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