Student Corner: Olympic gymnast chooses next career in Baylor’s Physician Assistant Program

Nearly three years after retiring from gymnastics, Madison Kocian still thinks about the body all the time.

It’s just not her own body anymore. It’s her future patients’.

In June, Kocian began her first semester in the Physician Assistant Program in Baylor College of Medicine’s School of Health Professions. Though early in her studies, she hopes for a career working with children.

Six years ago, the Dallas native competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as part of the gold-medal winning team of gymnasts known as the “Final Five.” A year after winning the World Championship in uneven bars in 2015 in a four-way tie, Kocian also earned a silver medal in the same event at the Olympics.

Madison Kocian gymnast 2

Madison Kocian, a student of Baylor’s Physician Assistant Program, competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics as a gymnast.

Kocian started training in gymnastics at age 5. She was 14 when she realized she could compete in the Olympics. She retired in March 2020 at age 22.

Kocian attended the University of California in Los Angeles and competed for UCLA women’s gymnastics. “‘Wow, what do I do with my life now?’” she remembered thinking when her final PAC-12 and NCAA Championships were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Being an athlete gave Kocian an accomplishment to work toward. “There was always something to achieve,” she said. “[When the pandemic happened], I set goals for myself and started rearranging those thoughts to find my next career.”

Kocian dealt with several injuries due to her gymnastics career, including surgeries on her ankles, shoulders and one wrist. Always curious about anatomy and how the body works, she remembers asking questions during doctors’ visits.

As an undergrad, she was exposed to the medical field through an internship with an orthopedic children’s specialty clinic in Los Angeles. She found that she loved working with kids. When she was a junior at UCLA, she decided to become a physician assistant.

Kocian applied to different programs, but she deliberately sought programs in Texas. Baylor’s high rankings and familiar-feeling faculty led her to choose Houston. “Everyone has been so good at helping us learn here and guiding us toward success,” she said.

Moving to Houston was not a major transition because it’s far enough from Dallas to have her own space, but it still feels like home. “Just a little more humid,” she said.

The time she actually spends in a classroom with her peers has been a bigger adjustment because during most of her school years and college, Kocian’s gymnastic training took place between 8 a.m. and noon before attending class until 4 or 5 p.m.

Though her gymnastics career is over, Kocian retains what she learned in those years on the mat and uneven bars: maturity, time management, physical health and a love for competition. Competing at a such a high level, Kocian admits there were bad days.

But at the end of it, her time as a gymnast helped her be the goal-oriented adult she is today.

“A lot of athletes lose their identity when they retire or quit playing,” Kocian said. “I now talk to younger athletes and tell them that they are more than their sport.”

By Julie Garcia