Gymnast qualifies for Maccabiah Games

Keith Kohn at the vault apparatus

Keith Kohn will compete with Team USA. ­(Photo: John Konstantaras)

For the first time, a UIC gymnast will represent Team USA in international competition.

Keith Kohn, a senior in communication and management, is one of six American gymnasts who qualified for the 2017 Maccabiah Games in Israel. The Games, which cycle every four years, draw about 10,000 Jewish athletes from more than 80 countries. The 20th edition of the games runs from July 4–18.

The Mundelein native is one of two Illinois gymnasts who will be representing Team USA.

“It’s a great honor because you’re in the presence of several other people that have gone through a similar struggle to you, so there’s an instant connection there,” said Kohn, who will compete in all-around and team competition in Israel.

“It’s hugely exciting,” UIC gymnastics head coach Charley Nelson added. “This is a step above and beyond not just for Keith, not just for UIC gymnastics, but for UIC athletics.”

Kohn still has one more hurdle to clear before heading out on his unique journey, though. Each qualifying athlete needs to raise a minimum of $7,000 to pay for food, travel and support for the games. So far, Kohn has raised more than $3,300.

“The only feeling I have is gratitude,” Kohn said, “and really I want to go to Israel and win this competition for America, but also for everyone that’s helped get me there because to me at this point, it’s about repaying that and showing them that their investment was worth it.”

The investment that UIC made in Kohn has certainly paid off, according to coaches and teammates. The four-year gymnast has impressed many in the program by taking on a leadership role, which has been vital to a team comprised of nine freshmen this season.

“(As team captain), he has taken and run with that role,” Nelson said. “It’s leading by example in the gym. It’s pulling a guy aside to give him a little tough love or pull him under his wing when it’s necessary. Keith reads that really well and communicates with the guys really well. That’s making a huge difference.”

“Keith is always conscientious of the mentality of the team,” added teammate C.J. Patton. “[He’s] never been afraid to talk to you one-on-one to make sure you’re in the right place and you aren’t being too hard on yourself when things aren’t going your way.”

The feeling is reciprocated. Kohn is thankful for what his UIC teammates and coaches have given him during his college experience.

“If it weren’t for all these very fortunate turns for me, running into all these wonderful people that make me want to be alive and do gymnastics like this, then there’s no chance I would have made it this far,” he said. “Let alone qualify for this.”

Nelson, who has coached international competitions before, said Kohn shouldn’t get too caught up in the moment at the Maccabiah Games.

“At the end of the day, you’re doing the same thing that you’ve been doing day in and day out,” Nelson said. “And you just have to keep that mentality of the way I train is the way I compete.”

Visit Kohn’s fundraising page

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