Kristle Lowell is a US gymnast who specialises in trampoline and tumbling. With many accolades and gold, silver and bronze medals to her name in recent years, she puts a lot of her success down to the relationship she has with her dog.
Kim O'Meara caught up with Kristle to find out more about her mascot on four legs and why she thinks more athletes, and people generally, could harness the power of companionship from a dog to find success and battle the pressures of sport, anxiety and depression.
Hi Kristle! Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us today. We can't wait to find out more about your dog, Koda. Tell us all about him.
Thank you, we're excited to speak too!
Koda is an American Eskimo and he's 1 year old. His birthday is Cinco De Mayo.
I first saw Koda when I came across him in a puppy mill. He was in the bottom cage and animals in the cage above him were going to the bathroom on top of him. He was so cold that he was shaking, so I rescued him.
Have you always owned dogs?
We have, we had two rescues before Koda. When Mini passed away we decided to get Koda.
I know Mini is looking down from heaven and his happy to see how much Koda is spoiled.
You've just won gold at the National Championships in Rhode Island where you also made Team USA, congratulations! How was the experience?
Thank you. Winning National Championships was a huge honour and complete surprise to me. Rhode Island was a beautiful state to visit and it was nice going to all the tourist attractions.
And we heard Koda gave you support from afar before the competition on Facetime, is that I right?
He did. I didn’t do well in prelims at Nationals so going into finals I felt down on myself.
So I decided to call my mom and dad and Facetimed with Koda all the way up until the point I was walking out to compete. He calms me down.
I always find the period when you're waiting before competitions hard because I get so nervous and so some time ago I set up Facetime with my parents meaning I can talk to Koda before I compete.
It sounds like you're a pro at it! Is it something you do regularly?
I do. I've Facetimed with him from Denmark, Spain, Colorado and now Rhode Island.
I always try to get him a present where ever I go. My parents say he watches the TV and while I’m competing live will bark at me (laughs).
It's clear to see you have a real bond. Does closeness of your relationship give you a lot of mental support to deal with the stress of competing?
Koda is my best friend. He's like a tiny person in a fur coat.
I am someone who suffers from depression. With him, I know no matter how I do at a competition there is a little white ball of fur at home that loves me no matter what. Knowing that really helps to calm me.
He makes me smile no matter how I feel. In fact, he's become my training partner, he's always so happy to watch me bounce on the trampoline.
It sounds like he does a great job, both as a companion and as a training partner with your recent successes in mind.
(Laughs) We own an Olympic style trampoline for the yard at home and Koda will sit underneath and watch me.
Sometimes he will even run and jump on to the trampoline while I’m on it. He can be a little clown sometimes.
He gives me breaks to my training whether at home or in the gym. On days where I'm in the gym training and might be struggling to get a new skill, my mom will send me pictures of him.
Just seeing the smile on Koda's face makes me feel like I have my own personal cheering squad.
Ah, well, who doesn't want their own cheering squad! Can we borrow him?
(Laughs) He really is the perfect training partner.
We go sprinting together and he is so intelligent. Actually, he knows how to cheat.
So I will countdown '1…2…3' and he will go on 2.
Koda will also sit outside while I work on the trampoline so I set up a kitty pool for him to make sure he doesn’t get too hot, and now when he's been in his pool he will run up onto the trampoline and shake off the water all over me.
He pushes me to get out more to do fun things.
The sport can be demanding and Koda reminds me to be adventurous. We go to the beach, go on nature walks and even go to Starbucks for Puppichinos.
It sounds like he has a really positive influence on you in lots of different ways. Do you have a motto you live your life by? And if Koda had life motto what do you think it would be?
My life motto is 'kindness costs you nothing. Meanness can cost you everything.'
Kindness is just so important in life. I try to do one kind thing for someone in my life once a day.
If Koda had a life motto I think it would be 'eat dessert first'.
(Laughs) I admire his ability to find happiness in every moment of life. He has a way of being a clown and finding fun in pretty much anything.
Describe the last time Koda made you laugh out loud.
(Laughs) I've got a lot of funny Koda moments.
My mom just bought one of those zero gravity Posturepedic chairs for the yard. We took it out of the box, set it up and the first thing which happened is that Koda ran and jumped in his kitty pool followed by jumping on the chair to dry off. I think he's claimed ownership of it.
Also, Koda also thinks my new trampoline is his own personal tent. I was bouncing and happened to look down and what do I see but him underneath it.
He thinks it's hilarious that I cannot get under there to get him out. I think it's his way of saying 'come play with me.'
He sounds like a really special little guy. If you could sum it up, what do you think is the best thing about being a dog owner?
(Laughs) The best thing about being a dog owner is never having to eat freeze pops alone. After a workout in no air-conditioning, we share a freeze pop together. It tastes so much better with dog drool for some reason.
I used to take freeze pops for granted but now will never look at them the same. When I go away on trips I miss my freeze pop buddy.
And finally, this is always a tough question but if Koda had the ability to speak and answer one question and one question only, what would you ask him and what do you think that he would say?
I would ask him 'if you were a human what job would you have in life?' and I think the answer would be a document shredder!
Koda is a world-class expert at shredding papers and boxes. He gets so excited when Amazon packages come.
Many thanks, Kristle!
Has your dog helped you during periods of stress or helped you find success in a career? Share your stories and experiences with us by commenting below - we'd love to hear from you!