Kristi Koplin looks on at an IBSF event.
A decision needed to be made, but U.S. bobsled pilot Kristi Koplin wasn’t sure what to do. She was sidelined since the first week of 2020, thanks to a terrifying competition crash in Lake Placid, New York. She was recovering, slowly, from another concussion, plus aches and pains.
Her goal was to heal and get back to training, aiming to hopefully compete in the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. But her heart was quietly whispering another undeniable truth.
It was time.
This week, Koplin told the world she was retiring, after 10 years in the sport. She sent an emotional email to her coaches at USA Bobsled & Skeleton on June 15, and then followed up with posts on her personal Facebook and Instagram accounts announcing she was done.
“This has been all so crazy. I am not great in expressing what I am feeling, so I decided to just write it all down,” Koplin, 33, said. “Like writing in a journal. I wrote the letter to my coaches, and then read it to my mom, and I started bawling. I hit send. And then I did the same with the Facebook and Instagram.
“I couldn’t even read all the messages coming in, they were so sweet and nice, and I was crying. My good friends, teammates — they were all so supportive. They had my back. I had to stop reading everything because I was crying so much. It has been so overwhelming, just so positive from everybody.”
Koplin’s career took her to the heights of bobsled. She turned to the sport in 2010, after a standout track and field career at Southern Utah. The school record holder for hammer throw, discuss and weight throw went on to become an alternate for the Winter Games Sochi 2014, and she terms it, has “a bag of medals” from her years of competing around the world.
She walks away in peace, knowing she accomplished everything possible. Right now, Koplin’s health comes first, realizing her body is unable to take the punishment from bobsled training and competition. And she doesn’t want to carry the additional burden of worrying about getting hurt again.
“Everything ends in sports, at one point or another. Olympics or not, you are going to retire at some point,” she said, while beginning to cry. “It’s not about the medals, or what you have accomplished. It’s about the people you impacted. It’s the relationships you formed and the people you worked with.
“That bag of medals is in a box. … I’m not going to do anything with them. But the friendships, experiences, they are staying with me. Looking back, I guess I didn’t realize that at the time, how special the people are to me. But I do now.”
She is planning on graduate school, to become a nurse practitioner. She was slated to be called up for Army Reserve hospital duty this spring, but her unit’s activation has been slight. As of now, Koplin thinks she will be staying home. She will be heading to Texas in July for Army Reserves leadership training.
But in the meantime, she is trying to process her new daily life. No more thinking about scheduling training or competitions. No more worries about what will happen if she crashes again. No more bobsled.
Koplin signed up for a half-marathon next year, and said she will continue working out and doing weights every day. It’s just in her blood.
She now sees having a bobsled career and nursing career, at the same time, has given her a huge blessing.
“I cannot imagine being in a sport, as long as I was in bobsled, and then retiring to ask, ‘What do I do next?’” Koplin said. “That has to be super scary. I’ve been talking to a lot of retired athletes who have reached out to me in the past couple days. They know what is like. Until you retire, you have no idea. When they retired, I had no idea what they were going through. It’s like a sadness, a depression, and I know I am lucky because I have nursing to fall back into. I am really glad the USOPC has programs, like ACES (the Athlete Career and Education Program), for us, and the need for mental health resources is really there.
“It’s a really weird feeling. I know I made the right decision. But you don’t realize all the tears and emotions that come from it. I’m working through it all, and I know I will be OK.”
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.