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GymHawk gives back

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | APRIL 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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Wednesday is the Iowa women’s gymnastics team’s designated day off from practice. Jenny Donar uses it to … work.

Most of her life, she has trained in gymnastics, continually honing her skills in hopes of a successful collegiate career. However, on Wednesday nights, the Hawkeye senior is busy for three hours, preparing herself for a career after gymnastics.

Hoping to attend medical school and become a dermatologist after completing her undergraduate education, Donar volunteers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, as she’s done every Wednesday throughout the year from 6-9 p.m. in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit.

Two years ago, she worked in the GI Surgery and Trauma Unit.

“I wanted to get something in hospital, but I didn’t have time for a job,” she said. “I thought volunteering would be next best opportunity and would set up my schedule better. Gymnastics is pretty demanding.”

At a time where the term “student-athlete” often has a distorted meaning, Donar represents everything good about college sports. She is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, and her schedule includes such classes as Cardiovascular Physiology.

Balancing school, gymnastics, and volunteering — all while trying to maintain some semblance of a social life — has been stressful, but it hasn’t been something she can’t handle.

Specializing in the floor exercise and vault for the No. 30-ranked Hawkeyes, Donar has also had another important role this season. As the only senior on the 18-member squad, she has led and demonstrated maturity to the younger gymnasts.

Leading is a responsibility Donar is comfortable with, and she has helped Iowa recover from a slow start to qualify for the NCAA regional meet on April 10 in Columbia, Mo.

Head coach Larissa Libby has known about Donar’s “goodness of heart” ever since she recruited her as a walk-on nearly four years ago.

“I think [volunteering] really helps to extend who she is as a person,” Libby said. “And I really, really love that she does that, and it’s part of her value system.”

A native of Puma City, Wis., the gymnast’s favorite part of volunteering is the interacting with patients. She talks with, feeds, and helps those in need of care in and out of bed.

Current team manager Kristen Ward first got Donar involved with the hospital. She loves the hands-on experience that the UIHC allows her despite her busy schedule.

Beyond the hospital, Donar volunteered last summer at Miracles in Motion, a program in which disabled children can ride horses on a farm near Swisher.

She knows she can’t do gymnastics forever and that her career will eventually come to an end. She’s mentioned many times this season she wants to make the most of her final year in the Iowa program and has been enjoying every single moment.

Sophomore Annie Szatkowski has learned a lot from her teammate. She is more than confident that one day Donar’s hard work will make her a fantastic doctor.

“That shows that athletes can succeed in academics as well as their athletics,” Szatkowski said.

“Going into the medical field is hard for anybody, but to balance gymnastics and school is even harder. That shows how dedicated she is. It also shows her really giving and happy spirit. She’s going to be great at that, I think.”


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