Sleds for scrubs: US Olympic bobsledder pursuing PhD in nursing at UH

Kristi Koplin starts a run in Lake Placid, New York. (Courtesy of Kristi Koplin)

One of the most remarkable bobsledders in US history has embarked on the next chapter of her life at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa, pursuing a doctorate in nursing practice from Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing (NAWSON).

Kristi Koplin spent 10 years at the top of the sport, winning gold medals in several North American Cup competitions and going to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as an alternate for the team UNITED STATES. However, a career-ending injury in early 2020 forced Koplin to retire shortly after he began considering a run at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Koplin earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Southern Utah University in 2010 and served several assignments as a nurse in the U.S. Army during her bobsledding career. After sustaining the injury in 2020, Koplin worked in clinics in Utah, Arizona and Pennsylvania at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was then that she decided to apply for graduate school to become a nurse practitioner.

“I was just working and applied to three different schools and heard about uh first,” Koplin said. “I remember getting the letter saying I had to respond by December and I hadn’t heard from the other two schools, so I just felt like it was meant to be.”

To buckle the buckle

person smiling while hiking in the forest
Hike Koplin to Windward Oʻahu. (Courtesy of Kristi Koplin)

Transition to life in Hawaii wasn’t as difficult as one might think for the Park City, Utah native. While she needed to get used to constantly living in hot temperatures, Koplin was familiar with the islands, as she and her family traveled there regularly. Hawaii and took “free space” flights to Hickam Air Force Base with the Army.

“I remember coming [to Hawaiʻi] child and having the fondest memories,” Koplin said. “I remember seeing Tripler and thinking, ‘I want to work at the pink hospital.’ For me, it was like this full circle coming together to arrive at Hawaii and go to graduate school. I’m grateful to have the GI Bill to pay for school and accommodation.

Koplin is in his second year in the NAWSON program and is expected to graduate in 2024. In addition to school, she works at uh Mānoa Hyperbaric Treatment Center, located at Kuakini Medical Center.

“I really like it. I like hands-on learning, so I’m glad we’re mainly in person. By going to the clinic, I can do things and learn with my hands. That’s how I ‘learn best,” Koplin said. “I was a varsity athlete, then a bobsledder and all I ever did was with my hands.

Koplin added, “My biggest goal is to help other people with my degree. I have many options. I could go back to active duty and I think it would be a good opportunity to help soldiers and their family members. But I also thought of working at Virginia for the same reason. My dad is a veteran and I have a lot of military in my family, so I just have a heart for the veterinary community.

Koplin’s bobsled career

person in a suit with a helmet
Koplin at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. (Courtesy of Kristi Koplin)

Koplin excelled in track and field at Southern Utah University, accumulating a number of school records in the hammer, discus and shot put. After her senior year of college, Koplin received an email from 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers introducing her to bobsledding. Koplin attended a recruiting camp soon after and started the sport in late 2010.

“I just looked at it as this adventure and I’ve always loved roller coaster rides, so I immediately thought ‘yes, I would love to do that.’ I knew it would be exciting and thrilling,” Koplin said. “I was in ROTC in my undergraduate and my CO supported me… I was on the national team in my freshman year. Everything worked. I was able to juggle between active military service and bobsledding with the help of the World Class Athlete Program.

Koplin added: “Looking back now, I’m so grateful that they said ‘you have to do your nursing too.’

Koplin was a brakeman before the 2014 Winter Olympics. She described it as a tough but great year because she had to fight for a spot on the Olympic team. While there were five brakewomen in total in the national team, only three participated in the Olympics in 2014. Although Koplin was not part of it, she was invited to Sochi as a substitute.

“It was bittersweet because you put in all that effort and time and it kind of ends. But the stress is also relieved because you wanted it so badly,” Koplin said. the nicest people. I felt quite safe and we were able to support our team and also support other teams that were competing there.

After her Olympic run, Koplin returned to full-time nursing in the military. She also transitioned to piloting the bobsleigh as she competed in national events in the United States for more than five years.

“The experience made me realize how important it is to know what your passion is and go for it,” Koplin said. “I had a lot going on, nursing, the military and I was a pilot, so it made me realize that to be good at something, you have to give it your all.”

Although she suspended the sled for scrubs and surgical gloves, Koplin said she couldn’t lose her competitive spirit, still looking for her next chance to cross the finish line with a gold medal. in any activity.

“Even now I’m 36 and I’m still trying to find that competition I can compete in. It’s just a lifelong thing that you have to try to pursue if you enjoy it,” Koplin said. .

-By Marc Arakaki

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