Westmont Magazine Continental Divide
A rare and unexpected opportunity to meet and talk to a four-time Olympic champion highlighted the 2007 Kinesiology Europe Mayterm for 25 traveling students.
Through a series of phone calls and personal connections, Gregg Afman, professor of kinesiology, was able to schedule an interview with Kornelia Ender, an eight-time Olympic medalist with the East German swim team. The plans to meet with Ender didn’t fall into place until a week before the students left for their 31-day trip.
The kinesiology department has organized the Mayterm every other year since 2001, creating an experience students cherish throughout their lives.
“We’re becoming a global society, and we need to understand what’s out there,” Afman says. “In a classroom we can talk about how the educational systems are different in Germany, England or Italy or how they have socialized medicine versus private medicine, but it’s much more powerful when you’re there talking to some of the leading professionals in the field at their universities.”
This year the group traveled to eight countries, meeting leading European sports scientists and visiting universities in Italy, England and Germany. They also went to the Coliseum, the 1960 Olympic Stadium in Rome and the 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
But for some, the most memorable part of the journey was a two-hour interview with Ender, who in 1976 became the first woman swimmer to win four gold medals in a single Olympics, all in world-record times. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Ender and other East German athletes discovered that coaches and team doctors injected them with steroids without their knowledge.
When recent media attention focused on Barry Bonds breaking Major League Baseball’s home run record and his alleged drug use, many tried and failed to interview Ender.
“She had turned down an interview with the BBC a couple of weeks prior to our visit,” Afman says. “She doesn’t want to dwell on the drug issue. You can imagine how hard the East Germans trained. They didn’t know they were being drugged. At 11-years-old she was being told they were giving her vitamins. It was a huge state secret.”
The Mayterm group met Ender at a physical therapy clinic she owns near Heidelberg, Germany.
“We agreed not to discuss doping in the interview out of respect,” says Kellyn Hansen ’08, biology major. “That wasn’t what we were looking for. We learned much more about Kornelia the person, the mother, the physical therapist and the former Olympic gold medalist.”
Veronica Wood ’09 says she was inspired by Ender’s stories of triumphs and struggles.
“Despite being maltreated by trusted coaches, trainers, even the government, she said that she entered the Olympics to win for herself. Her example to overcome the shock and anger she must have felt and press on to become a respectable physical therapist is very encouraging,” Wood says.
During the month-long trip, students hiked the Swiss Alps, embarked on an historical bicycle tour of Edinburgh, Scotland, and toured the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Vatican Museum.
“As a life-long learner and follower of Christ, it’s essential that we seek to understand other cultures and ideas to learn how to love all people better,” kinesiology major Cody Atterbury ’09 says. “When you come back to America, you look at yourself, your peers, and society as a whole in a different light. You cannot learn unless you are stretched.”