The year was 1994 when toddler Tim Kuhnert from Düsseldorf, Germany, nearly drowned in a swimming pool at his family’s country club. The incident left him in a coma for 15 months. His mother, Kirsten Kuhnert, moved with him and her daughter, Kira Kuhnert, to Miami, Fla., to see if dolphin therapy--which simply allows children to interact with dolphins--could cure Tim’s coma. After four treatments, he woke up.

He was never the same, though. Tim developed cerebral palsy, which confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. On March 1, 2008, Tim died unexpectedly at home.

This story isn’t really about Tim Kuhnert, though. This story is about Kira, his younger sister and a senior on University of Richmond’s women’s golf team, who founded a charity organization in her brother’s memory, which she named Timmy & Friends.

Kuhnert founded the organization three years ago to support larger groups that are directed toward services for the handicap. She said that Timmy & Friends would focus on bringing awareness and publicity to these organizations via social media, small projects and service orientations.

Kuhnert said that her organization would raise funds to support larger organizations which provide after-school programs, such as dolphin therapy, for handicap children. In one or two years, Kuhnert said she plans on having an official “Timmy Day” where people will gather, have fun and raise money.

Timmy & Friends has been registered as an official organization, but Kuhnert said that she is expecting to have the finances officially completed soon. “It’s incredible and it’s scary,” Kira said of the finalization of Timmy & Friends. “It’s been a three-year process of dealing with all of the legal paperwork.”

Golf as a Coping Mechanism

Kuhnert said it was difficult to cope with her brother’s death. However, she said she had found an escape through golf that has helped her to translate her sadness into acceptance and to use her loss as motivation to make positive changes in the world of handicap people.

“My brother for me was a twin 21 months older,” she said. “We were extremely close and that was really hard for me to get over. I think golf helped me with that because it was a change of pace, and it was a way to shut everything out.”

Golf wasn’t Kuhnert’s preferred sport at first; she said she started playing tennis when she was three years old. “I liked the fact that I could get my energy out,” she said. “When I was younger I was very hyper.” Tennis practice was her favorite time of the day, she admitted.

Shortly before she went to Coral Reef Senior High School, she said that her mother’s boyfriend approached her and asked for her help. He wanted Kuhnert to wrap the set of golf clubs he had bought for her mother’s birthday.

After her mother opened the gift, she said that her mother begged her to join her on the course. Kuhnert grew to love the sport, although her confidence took some time to develop.

“I was terrified, because I never played 18 holes,” she said. “When I played 18 holes I thought, ‘Oh my gosh this is going to take forever.’” Her mother said she had a natural talent, and encouraged her to try out for the high school team.

“I didn’t think they would take me,” Kira said. “I went into it thinking I’m going to just do it for my mom. I was definitely nervous and felt no chance I was going to make the team.”

Despite her hesitance and being new to the sport, Kira was awarded a spot on the golf team.

She said that rounds would last eight hours and her scores would be in the 120s, but she said once she had put the tennis racquet away for good she progressed as a golfer.

Her high school golf coach Michael Myles said, “Once she decided to commit herself to golf, she went for it at full speed.”

Kira was recruited by Richmond three days before the national signing date during her senior year of high school. She is a Spider now, though, and finished last season averaging 88.55 strokes per round, fourth on her team, and was named to the Patriot League Honor Roll.

Staying Busy

Kuhnert is also the president of the Pi Sigma Alpha Honors Society, Richmond’s political science honors society and a president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Within SAAC, Kira said she loved being able to give student athletes a unified voice to the athletic department.

Working for a political-science major and Latin American, Latino and Iberian Studies and German Studies minor, Kuhnert said she is in the process of writing her bachelor’s thesis and preparing for the LSATS while also applying to law schools.

When things get difficult as a student athlete, Kuhnert said she reminds herself of how thousands of girls wish they could be in her shoes, and how thankful she is to be a Spider.

International Experiences and Leaving a Legacy

Kira had an internship with the Global Consulting Group USA, a consulting firm primarily that works primarily in Cuba. In the third week of her internship, she said that she worked directly with a German tobacco distributor that wanted distribution rights for Cuban cigars in Azerbaijan and Turkey.

She said she was the only person in the firm who could communicate with their client because she spoke fluent German and became familiar enough with the business plans that at the end of July, she traveled to Cuba and worked with the negotiations of the contract.

“I really hope to go back in five years to hopefully already see some change,” she said. “All of my bosses were from Cuba and left everything behind, and now they are using the company as an opportunity to build the country back up because it needs everything. Everything in Cuba is such a question mark.”

She said that she could see the beauty of Cuba despite the crumbling buildings, the avenues and the old pictures and she said that she believes it will be restored some day.

Richmond has become her temporary home for the last four years, but she admits that it has never been her Heimat or her Zu Hause. She said that Germany is her Heimat, or her place of origin, and Miami has been her Zu Hause, her home.

In four years, Kira has built a platform off of which she plans to build a legacy—a legacy helping the handicapped in honor of her brother. 

Contact sports assistant Olivia Healy at olivia.healy@richmond.edu

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