116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It’s been written that gymnastics is, in a sense, sport.
I know that because I wrote that line three years ago.
Gymnastics, you see, is defined as a “physical exercise designed to develop strength and coordination,” according to Merriam-Webster.
But while gymnastics in the state of Iowa flourishes on the youth level, it flounders a bit on the adult, or elite, level. There are no high school gymnastics teams, thus it seems to be an activity young girls and boys participate and compete in until they grow up and move on to the “real” sports.
Iowa has produced some fantastic gymnasts, but for every Shawn Johnson there are thousands of Adeline Kenlins.
Well maybe not thousands like Kenlin. She’s a special talent, as evidenced by her participation in this weekend’s NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.
Now a sophomore at the University of Iowa, Kenlin was born in Guanxi, China, but grew up in Iowa City, attending Regina before transferring and graduating from West Branch High School. The Hawkeyes, for the record, actually have five Iowans on their roster, including Allysson Steffensmeier and Kareena McSweeney from Cedar Rapids.
So maybe there is hope for a higher level of gymnastics in the state.
But this is a tale about Kenlin, who, long before graduating from high school, had gymnastics became part of her life. It was initially a way to keep her from “bouncing off the walls” and later to fuel her competitive nature. Her mother, Sara, signed Adeline up for gymnastics when she was 2 or 3 years old to “get my energy out” and also build strength.
“I instantly fell in love with it,” she said, adding her mom also “loved” it because it gave Adeline the release she needed in a “safe environment. I always felt at home there.”
The sport loved Kenlin back. She excelled at the youth level with the Iowa Gym-Nest club, winning state titles and, in 2013, capturing gold on uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and all-around at the U.S. Challenge.
She eventually worked her way into the “elite level,” what USA Gymnastics defines as the “pros.” Elite level gymnasts can compete in Olympic Trials or other professional events.
That, however, is when her love of the sport started to wane.
“I stopped going to (national) camps,” she said. “ ... Gymnastics takes a lot of mental toughness ... Elite was just so tough. I kind of fell out of love with it.”
She dropped back to Level 10 competition, putting her on par with many collegiate level competitors. She joined the Hawkeye gymnastics team and, well, “my love has grown more.”
And now she’s back among the elite of the collegiate sport. She’ll compete in the balance beam Thursday inside Dickies Arena (5 p.m./ESPN2). She scored a 9.950 at the regional meet on March 31, becoming the first Hawkeye to qualify for the NCAA meet since Clair Kaji in 2017.
That score is the second best on the beam in school history, behind her career best of 9.975, which tied the Iowa record.
“Beam is my favorite,” Kenlin said. “It comes naturally to me. I feel like I’m on the floor when I’m on the beam ... I don’t realize it’s four inches wide.”
Like every athlete, Kenlin has goals. But getting to the NCAA Championships is good enough right now.
“I love competing,” she said. “I’ve always been a competitive person. I just fell in love with competition.”
But it’s a more relaxed love now — and, it appears, more satisfying.
“It’s such a big opportunity,” she said. “I’m just hoping to go out there and have some fun. I’m not nervous at all.”
The Olympic dream likely is gone for good, but the love has returned.
“I’m just happy,” she said.
That’s a pretty elite feeling.
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