Kelly has sights set on bobsled medal
Katelyn Kelly starred in indoor and outdoor track at Orchard Park High School before moving on to Miami University in Ohio, where she competed in the heptathlon, high jump and 400-meter hurdles for the Redhawks track and field team. Kelly’s strength and speed led to success at the collegiate level, but now the 2005 graduate of Orchard Park is hoping her talents can help her succeed at the Olympic level in the bobsled competition.
After graduating in the spring of 2009 from Miami, where she studied English literature and biology, Kelly began taking prerequisite and other health science classes while filling out physician assistant school applications and working at a hospital to earn clinical hours.
When Kelly got word of a recruitment letter sent from Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers to her strength coach at Miami, she decided to put her skills to use in pursuing the opportunity to become a member of the U.S bobsled team.
“I didn’t really know that much about it,” said the daughter of Thomas and Kathleen Kelly. “If anything, it’d be an experience. I could say I tried bobsled and went down a bobsled run.”
In March 2010, Kelly traveled to Lake Placid, where she got the chance to ride in a bobsled for the first time.
“I screamed the whole way down,” said Kelly, who said she got sick later that day from her trip down the rough Lake Placid track that is dubbed “The Baby Shaker.”
Kelly’s initial worries about riding in a sled that travels over 70 miles-per-hour quickly subsided as she began to enjoy her new opportunity.
“By the end of the week, I really liked it so I proceeded to take the next few steps,” Kelly recalled.
She attended rookie week that August and combines in September.
In October 2010, after reviewing combine test scores, push championship results and team selection race times, the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation selection committee named Kelly to the 2010-2011 national bobsled team that would compete on the World Cup circuit.
As the brakeman, Kelly’s job is to push from directly behind the sled at the start and create as much speed as possible before jumping into the rear end of the sled and continuing the trip down the track behind the driver.
In an event where women compete with two-people teams and men compete with both two- and four-man teams, the start will last about five seconds of the approximately 60-second race. Therefore, it is critically important that Kelly generates as much velocity as possible.
“The biggest part of the race is the push, for the brakeman; all the power and speed is behind the push,” said Kelly. “If you beat someone by a tenth of a second at the start it adds up as you go to the bottom. A tenth at the start is approximately three-tenths at the bottom.”
After the push, Kelly’s role is to stay relaxed and keep down. She holds onto the brake handles while counting the turns so she knows when to brake after passing the finish line.
While most members of the bobsled team begin as brakemen, some move on to become drivers. Kelly said that was her plan when she traveled back to Lake Placid in early March.
“I like the idea of having more control of the situation,” said Kelly, who will continue to train as a brakeman and plans to apply for residency in Lake Placid. “You get to do the curves. You get 60 seconds instead of five seconds. While it’s fun being a brakeman, it just doesn’t seem like enough.”
Drivers have to study tracks and learn the fast lines for every curve. They have to decide when to steer and not steer, utilizing the D-rings that control the sled.
As a member of the team, Kelly has visited and competed at all four North American bobsled tracks including Lake Placid; Park City, Utah; Calgary, Alberta; and Whistler, British Columbia, where the last Winter Games were held.
In addition to the North American locations, Kelly has toured the tracks in Europe, including Munich, Germany; Igls, Austria; Winterberg, Germany; and Torino, Italy. Kelly’s favorite track is the world’s only natural track, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the birthplace of bobsled.
Despite the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world, the life of a bobsled team member is difficult. Kelly said she rarely gets a day off. If she isn’t at the bobsled runs or training, she is cleaning the 400-pound sleds.
The travel and culture shock can be challenging as well.
“When you’re trying to be at your highest level physically and mentally, it’s just a little more stress,” Kelly said of traveling to different countries. “The food is different. The grocery stores are different. All the signs are in a different language.”
Kelly hopes all the hard work will conclude with a trip to the Olympics. She has her eyes set on earning a spot on one of the three two-woman teams the U.S will send to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“It’s really awesome to represent your high school, and in college it’s an honor, but to represent your country, I think is the biggest honor you can possibly have,” said Kelly. “It’s the highest level that you can achieve.”
Kelly added that her desire to compete in athletics stems from the support she received when attending Orchard Park High School.
“I really don’t think I would have gone on to do college sports if I hadn’t been involved in sports at Orchard Park,” she said. “The coaches really encouraged me.”
The 23-year old Kelly said she is committed to earning a trip to the Olympics in 2014 and 2018, which means she has to put her other life goal on hold for another seven years.
“My two dreams in life are to go to the Olympics and be a doctor,” she said, “The rest will take care of itself, I think.”