On any given team there tends to be a multitude of characters. There is the driving force. The inspiration. The powerhouse. The confidante. The cheerleader. And of course, the goofball. Sometimes, if the team is lucky, all those personas settle into one individual. That individual is most often selected to lead as the team captain. For the Golden Gophers Women’s Gymnastics team, that individual is senior Kristin Furukawa. Not only was Furukawa granted the honor of being this year’s team captain, she was also awarded the honor during her junior season, making it the second year in a row she has taken on the role. As team captain Furukawa must wear many masks, a feat that can most definitely be tricky and stressful but is something she has certainly treasured every step of the way.
“It was a huge honor. It was a huge honor the first time as a junior even to get it. To get named it again, the second year in a row was incredible. To feel your teammates respect you that much. They want to put you in that position. They trust you to do the job. I’m really humbled by that.”
It is somewhat rare for the title to be given to someone who is not a senior gymnast and therefore makes it an even greater honor to be named back-to-back. Obviously the other girls on the team value Furukawa as a person and see leadership qualities in her or they would not have voted her back in. According to Furukawa, it is her ability to be the fun-loving goofball that lightens the tension that is her most valuable asset to this team.
“I think I am able to kind of rally my team toward the common goal and get them on the same page and excited to accomplish something. I know some people kind of get into themselves. I think I am good at running around and being the crazy, stupid one so other people can feed off of.”
It is not always fun and games though. Furukawa has long been a leader in terms of performances and routines. She has competed on the uneven bars in every meet throughout her four-year career. She tied with All-American Carmelina Carabajal for the team’s best bars score of the season with a 9.875 when she was just a freshman. The next year, she owned the top team score on bars by earning 9.925 against Iowa, and took five titles in the event. Last year, Furukawa was Minnesota’s top scorer on bars at three meets and was the top beam performer in eight meets, including the Big Ten championship where she was the beam runner-up.
Her senior season is proving to be no different. With the season half over, Furukawa has already achieved a season-high score of 9.90 on the uneven bars and a career-best score of 9.925 on the balance beam. She holds the top three scores on bars by a Minnesota gymnast this season and owns the top score on beam. Furukawa has also walked away with four event wins so far this season.
While having a history of impressive statistics and carrying the role as team captain can add to the amount of pressure a gymnast feels to perform for their team, Furukawa will not let that take away the fun she hopes to have in her final season.
“I think at the beginning of the year there was a little added pressure just because I was a senior and captain. At the end of your career you want to be the best you can be,” she said. “Then I thought about it and I was like this is gymnastics. This is what you love. I’m going to enjoy my last year and do what I do.”
What Furukawa has learned from in the collegiate gymnastics world—observing the coaches and acting as a team captain—is now being filtered into her future career goals. Kristin came to college with the most popular major: undecided. She considered everything; graphic design, veterinary school, firefighting, before deciding to stick with what she loved and enrolling in the Sport Management Bachelor’s Degree Program.
Furukawa is now aware of her career dream. She has added a coaching minor, which she will finish this next fall, and will take the necessary steps to become a Division I Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach, starting with the family she has created here at the U. “I am going to stay on next year as the manager for the team so I can get experience that way and stay on with the same girls and inch my way into the college coaching world.”
After spending her training years with elite coaches from all over the country, Furukawa has gathered the skills, and more importantly the passion, to take what she has learned and follow in their footsteps to a coaching position.
“My club coach always told me that if it is your passion, it is your passion. I am interested in and have always delved into other things, but I always come back to gymnastics. It is just something I cannot get away from. He has always kept that in my mind. If you work hard enough you can accomplish anything you want.”
“My coaches now are the same way,” she adds. “Seeing them, seeing what they do every day, and the pride and joy they get out of coaching a team like this. I want that someday. I have definitely learned that from them.”
Figuring out your future career can be tricky. You can sort through hundreds of options to test out your interests. You can study, gather skills, and collect the tools you will need to be successful. But at the end of the day, it may not be enough. If you are lucky to find the one thing you enjoy most and figure out a way to turn that into a job, hold onto it.
Kristin Furukawa has found it. She insists it all comes down to passion, “my one passion is gymnastics. I know that if I did that for the rest of my life I would never regret it.”
Story written by Kate Wadman