Bobsled athlete and nurse Kristi Koplin (L) poses in protective gear in Park City, Utah.
Kristi Koplin, a pilot on the U.S. bobsled team, posted an emotional message on her Instagram account on Jan. 8, essentially telling the world she might be done with her sport.
The 33-year-old Koplin was hurt, struggling with the pain and injuries from a serious crash during her second-to-last run during a competition in Lake Placid, New York. The crash was so hard, she said, that she blacked out and woke up fearing she’d been paralyzed. Thankfully she wasn’t, but she had terrible bruises all over her body, another concussion and the growing realization that her life may not be building toward the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
So Koplin came home to Park City, Utah, to heal — physically and emotionally — and head back to work as an urgent care nurse.
She’s been alternating between bobsled and nursing for years, so the switch was normal. But soon the whole world turned upside down, as the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread, and Koplin became part of a team at Intermountain Healthcare testing for the virus at a drive-up clinic in an underground level of a parking garage.
“It’s been intense, because there is so much anxiety right now,” said Koplin, who is also a captain in the Army Reserve. “I try to help the people coming in by being calm, and giving them the knowledge and comfort that we’re here for them. We can figure out what is going on, test them and try to get them the info and the help they need.
“But yeah, it’s been go, go, go for the past couple of weeks, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon since Utah has it pretty bad where I am.”
Koplin is seeing a steady stream of sick people of all ages. The hard part is hearing their stories of fear and illness, as COVID-19 is the main theme of every conversation. She is dressed in full protective gear, making her look more like an astronaut than a caring nurse trying to test or triage — all in a parking lot, no less.
“Your heart breaks when you hear people are running low on inhalers, or they can’t find Mucinex or Tylenol in the store,” she said. “The essentials are running low everywhere and you want to help them, like the mom who can’t find Motrin to help break her daughter’s fever. I really want to help them.”
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The COVID-19 virus weighs on Koplin’s mind too, as she lives with her two over-70 parents. She is isolating herself in the basement, trying to avoid bringing anything home from the testing station to her family.
“I understand the anxiety, I go up and down with it too,” she said. “I think my greatest fear would be to expose them — and have them come down with it. That is the scary part, you don’t know if you are carrying it with you. So that is why staying at home is so important for everybody to limit the spread. I can’t stay home, because I am part of the health care system, but I am trying to do my part at home.”
Koplin likely will not be home much longer though, as her reserve unit (Army Reserve 328 Field Hospital) is getting activated and will soon be deployed. She doesn’t know where she will be in the U.S., but she’s eager to help serve the areas in need.
Koplin now sees her early end to the bobsled season as a hidden blessing. She was having a strong season, ranked second overall in the second-tier North American Cup. She had won three gold medals and two silvers. But if she had not crashed and been injured, she would have continued the season until it ended due to the pandemic. Meaning she would have come back to nursing tired and a bit beat up from bobsled.
“I got a chance to rest. I got a chance to heal, and both those things helped me jump into this and deal with the grind,” Koplin said. “I really can see things happened the way the needed to.”
She’s back to working out, thanks to some equipment at her sister’s house, and the time and space from her crash has brought new perspective.
She doesn’t have to make any big decisions about bobsled right now.
“When that injury happened, my immediate thought was, I am done,” she said. “I went through a week of depression after that. Now, I am more like, I don’t want to be done. The Olympics are so close, it’s knocking at the door.
“I feel good, I still have so much passion about doing everything I am doing. So, I am just going to keep going, staying in shape and seeing where life takes me. I can feel it in my soul: this is what I need to be doing right now. I am helping people, and I am getting mobilized. And I am ready.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.