Kinesiology student goes from researching Olympics to attending them

Katrina Krawec went from conducting Olympic-related research in Germany this summer to actually attending the Games in London.

A master’s student in kinesiology, Krawec spent several months at the University of Tübingen, just south of Stuttgart, where she participated in a large multi-year study to analyze the health and nutrition behaviours in adolescent Olympic-level elite athletes.

Most of Krawec’s work involved analyzing previously collected data from more than 1,100 elite athletes born between 1992 and 1995 from 51 Olympic disciplines. The premise of the study was the belief that elite athletes have to both protect and risk their health at the same time in order to perform their best. Being adolescents, they have the added challenge of coping with substantial physical, psychological and social transformations.

Those challenges provide an extra burden for governing bodies trying to develop health promotion and protection strategies, so researchers wanted to gather information from athletes, coaches and medical experts about best practices to prevent health issues, Krawec said.

“It’s a myth that these athletes don’t get sick because they’re in such excellent condition,” she said. “The truth is quite the opposite. Their immune systems are often compromised because of all the extreme stress they put their bodies through during intensive training. They’re always on the edge of getting sick. It’s really an under-researched subject. A sociological study on how that experience of getting sick affects their mental state and their performance hasn’t been done.”

Ontario has a student exchange agreement with the German state of Baden-Württemberg and Krawec, who is originally from Oshawa, heard about it through a department secretary and decided to apply.

“It sounded like a perfect opportunity,” said Krawec, who earned her undergraduate degree at Western University. “I had been to Germany a couple of years ago. All I had to do was find a professor who was doing work related to mine and was willing to take me on for a short-term. I was eager to find someone who doing something that was related to sport and sociology research.”

Krawec said she did a lot of travelling while in Germany. She went kayaking in Austria and attended a conference in Bern, Switzerland, where UWindsor kinesiology professor Marijke Taks was a keynote speaker, and the two spent the last day of the conference mountain biking together.

After she wrapped up her work in Germany, she travelled to London to meet with friends and soak up some Olympic atmosphere.

“I watched the women's 10K marathon swim on August 9, and the men's marathon on August 12,” said Krawec, who also volunteered at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. “It was free to stand along the race courses, which is what I did. I also watched the closing ceremonies at a free public viewing in Victoria Park in London's east end near the Olympic Park, and went to a bunch of free Olympic-related exhibits at the Royal Opera House, National Portrait Gallery, and Tate Britain. I’m definitely interested in the Olympics.”