After wrapping up an All-American track career at Springfield College, Kelly Curtis seemed to have found her calling.
The former Princeton High track and basketball star took a position as an assistant coach with the St. Lawrence University track team and entered the school’s masters program in educational leadership.
“It is totally different; I remember my first meet and being so nervous for my athletes, it is like being a parent,” said Curtis, a three-time All-American in the combined events and the 2011 Penn Relays Heptathlon Champion. “It was good, it was what I thought I wanted to do.”
But Curtis started to get the itch to get back into competing. “It was exciting to be a normal adult and eat what I wanted to but my clothes weren’t fitting and I wanted something to motivate me,” said Curtis. “I am not into CrossFit or distance running.”
Influenced by some Springfield track teammates who had joined the U.S. bobsled program, Curtis decided to head over to nearby Lake Placid in August, 2013 to take part in a combine and see if she had a future in winter sports.
Excelling in the fitness tests which included 5-meter sprints, shot puts, standing long jumps, along with squats and power cleans in the weight room, Curtis was invited to a bobsled driving school that December.
It didn’t take long for Curtis to realize that she had found a new calling.
“My first run was in a 2-man bobsled,” recalled Curtis. “I was in the back of the bobsled; it was like a bumpy roller-coaster ride. I thought it was amazing, I am hooked, that’s it.”
The U.S. coaches also urged Curtis to try her hand at skeleton, another sliding sport which entails riding a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, during which the rider can reach speeds over 80 mph.
“It is more crazy when you are watching; it is not as crazy when you are doing it,” said Curtis.
“On my first run, the coach dropped me off at top and said hope to see you at the bottom. Your body just reacts. There are no brakes; there is no other option than to go down.”
While enjoying coaching, Curtis decided that she couldn’t wait to pursue the U.S. sledding option.
“I was trying to decide all last spring,” said Curtis. “The St. Lawrence athletes and coaching staff wanted me to come back for a third year because they are hosting the nationals. If this was any other thing, I would have come back. But if I was serious about representing my country in international competition, I had to be fully committed. I am already behind the other sliders. I just turned 26 and some of the girls are teenagers. It takes four years to know what you are doing.”
Encouraged by Jamie Greubel, a former Hun School standout who earned a bronze medal in the two-man bobsled at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Curtis entered some bobsled competitions last fall.
“It was really exciting,” said Curtis, reflecting on her debut last November in Calgary. “I just wanted to get off the line and push as hard as I could and just get in the back for the ride. I was sending good vibes to the driver. We ended up finishing third. Jamie and a Great Britain sled finished ahead. It was great being on the podium in my first competition.”
Curtis, who took silver and bronze in bobsled competitions this January in Lake Placid, ultimately concluded that skeleton afforded her the best opportunity to move up the ladder in the U.S. sledding program.
“I decided to come back as a skeleton racer in January,” said Curtis, who is currently training in Lake Placid and has opened a website for donations, fundly.com/kcskelly, to help her cover expenses.
“I have a better opportunity to move up in skeleton. After Rio (the 2016 Summer Olympics), the track athletes will be moving back to bobsled. The track background is a great fit for me, there are a lot of track athletes in bobsled. In skeleton, you see athletes from different sports. We have field hockey players, pole vaulters, gymnasts. It is better if I stick with skeleton; I can determine my own destiny.”
In order to best fulfill her destiny, Curtis is going through an arduous training regimen, on and off the ice.
“I work on acceleration with off ice training in the morning with short sprints and then hit the weight room with power cleans and squats,” said Curtis.
“It is training like a short sprinter and a power lifter. Then it is recovery stuff with flexibility and hurdle drills. In bobsledding, you spend five hours at the course for two runs. There is a lot of sled maintenance and set up, a one hour warm up, and two hours of actual runs and only 20 seconds of activity for me for pushing. For skeleton, you move the sled yourself and there is less maintenance. We come out for three hours, which is usually two or three runs. I am pretty spent after two or three runs.”
Making up for lost time, Curtis is relishing the training process. “My window of opportunity is so short, every day I am out there I am so happy to be doing this,” said Curtis, who is shooting to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics but acknowledges that the 2022 Winter Games may be more realistic considering when she took up sliding. “Skeleton is different, you have to relax to go your fastest. As soon as you tense up, you have trouble on turns.”
While Curtis is troubled at times by the wintry conditions that come with her new sport, her Olympic dream gives her the fuel to overcome the chill.
“I hate the cold,” said Curtis, who placed first in the skeleton at the Eastern Regionals last weekend to earn a spot at the National Team Trials in October.
“It might be freezing when you are warming up on the side of a mountain but when you are representing your country, you don’t feel the cold. I am just trying to be one with the sled.”