Kelly Curtis: Professional Bobsled & Skeleton Athlete

Instagram: @kellycurtisusa
Jimmy Reed via Parity  

"I just don't even know what kind of athlete I would be if I were extrinsically motivated. There's not a lot of extrinsic in this sport. You just have to do the work."
 

ON THE ACCIDENT THAT LED TO HER THIRD-GRADE REPUTATION 
 
I was a gym rat when I was a little kid. They wanted to put me in the circus. My older brother wrestled, so I brought my best friend over from ballet. In third grade, we wrestled with the boys and I ended up spraining one of their necks. My dad was the athletic director who called for the ambulance and he was like, "Is it for Kelly? Did she get hurt?" My mom had to tell him that I was the one who hurt the boy. I ended up with a reputation, but it was a fun couple of years.   I'm the baby of four. Growing up, when someone heard I was a Curtis, they knew about my siblings or my dad [editor's note: Kelly's dad, John Curtis, played in the NFL and is a Hall of Famer at Springfield]. It set the tone, but now, I think the pressure comes from within because it's motivation. I would love to be on the same level as my dad.  

 
ON THE BEST WAY TO DESCRIBE SKELETON
 
One of my military training instructors referred to skeleton as extreme boogie-boarding. You're head-first, on your stomach, going 80 miles per hour with five g's of pressure.   The first couple of years you're just training your brain to be okay with going headfirst down a mountain. Then, you're not focusing on it. Every time you slide, you're getting new information. You start breaking down each track, from the top.   And then you get to Whistler, the fastest track in the world, and you're doing a seven-story drop by curve two.

 


ON CRASHING ON ONE OF HER FIRST RUNS

"What was that? I guess I was a little too high off of 18 there. I guess I shouldn't do that again."

I was still in driving school. Some crashes are worse than others but for me, the worst part was sliding down through the chute and then the protocol to see if I was concussed before I could go up and do it again. We're still trying to figure out what kind of person this sport attracts. I'm an adrenaline junkie but I have a teammate who hates heights and roller coasters. And he's very good.

 
ON THE EVOLUTION OF THE SPORT AND THE CULTURE
 
If we were still on the Lake Placid track from the '90s, I wouldn't be a part of the sport. It had crazy lines and you crash out of the final corner. Even on a good run, you'd be very messed up, physically. Now, because they're recruiting established athletes from other sports, you have a totally different person coming into bobsled and skeleton. And the culture varies. Right now, we're one week out from National Team Trials, so it's a little less 'Cool Runnings' and a little more 'I, Tonya.' There's no hard feelings if you do or don't make the team, but at this level you have to think about what's best for you.   [editor's note: since the interview, Kelly placed first in the USA Skeleton 2021-2022 National Team Trials]
 
 
ON BEING SELF FUNDED AND THE ODD JOBS THAT COME WITH IT
 
When you get into this sport, a lot of things are taken care of. More than you realize. Then you hear, "We had money for recruitment, but not for development.

"That's when the game begins of figuring out how to make this lifestyle work."

When you're self-funded, just making ends meet every month is an accomplishment. I've had so many odd jobs just to be able to afford this. I've worked as a pet-sitter in Princeton, which was actually pretty lucrative. Not a bad gig. I worked for the Dick's Sporting Goods Contenders Program in New Jersey, New Orleans, Colorado, and Miami. I've been an extra in TV and movies. I worked WrestleMania. I even worked for a ski rental company and I've never been skiing.

 
ON STAYING MOTIVATED DESPITE COMPARISONS AGAINST PEERS

"It was really hard coming off of earning my Masters and going right into pet-sitting."

I was seeing my peers accelerating in their respective fields meanwhile I was losing years of potential earnings and opportunities. I was seeing the cost that this sport demands. I was thinking, "Wow, I'm going to be really set back when I finally start my career. And it's going to start when I'm 33?" It was pretty daunting.   I just don't even know what kind of athlete I would be if I were extrinsically motivated. There's not a lot of extrinsic in this sport. There are days where I don't want to show up but at this level, you have to. You just have to do the work. You won't be motivated every single day but you do it because it's important.

 
ON BETTING $6,000 ON HER POTENTIAL
 
When you first start out, you don't know your potential. The coaches might think they do, but they don't. Our last medalist for men's skeleton was cut his first season by a coach who thought he wouldn't amount to anything. No one really knows if it's going to pan out or not.   Even if you have access to the funds, you're not sure if you want to spend that money on equipment. But as soon as I had access, I knew I needed to get a sled and figure out my potential [editor's note: Kelly had to save up for a $6,000 sled in order to take her training to the next level].    

"I needed to see what I could do. And that season was very telling. I started winning races."    

Now, it's nice to see the Federation push more funding towards development. For the next Olympics, they're going to have athletes who have had the resources they needed along the way, not just the ones who found enough odd jobs to pay for it.

 
ON WHAT'S NEXT AND THE AIR FORCE WORLD CLASS ATHLETE PROGRAM
 
I originally thought I would end this endeavor after the Beijing Olympics and I would start my career from there. But with the Air Force Program, I've been given a totally different path that I wasn't expecting to benefit from. Post-Olympics, I'll be able to train while on active duty. I'm hoping to be placed in Italy so that I can work on base but also spend time learning the European tracks. I have teammates who have experienced the post-Olympics depression and it seems pretty daunting. I think the Air Force will help with that. I'm really looking forward to being able to say, "Now, I have to go serve my country in the military."

 
ON BEING FORCED GO WITH THE FLOW
 
I just found out an hour ago that our next races were moved up three days because of weather. I'm wishing I knew that earlier because I eat on a schedule to make weight and I do specific workouts to be ready. But every single year, we have things like this or mechanical errors that make us move to another track.  

"All you can do is go with the flow and hope for the best."

KELLY'S ROUTINE
 
In-season, it comes down to whatever I can carry with me. And I have to carry a lot of stuff. Right now I'm taking a generic prenatal for military training. I also take fish oil for the brain, since it gets a little rattled when I'm sliding. I try to stick to coffee but sometimes I'll take TinFold pre-workout. It's made by one of my former bobsled teammates. And in the off-season, I'll take protein from Earth Fed Muscle.   My husband also owns a CBD company, Caffeine + Cannabinoids [Caff and Cann] that started because of experiences with other companies who were putting things in CBD that they shouldn't. They sell single-origin coffee beans infused with CBD. It's clean energy with a balance. [editor's note: Kelly doesn't take any CBD products due to it being banned in the military].

 
DEALER'S CHOICE QUESTION: WHAT'S THE BEST ODD JOB YOU'VE EVER HAD?
 
I was in "Preacher" on AMC as a vampire wannabe who eventually gets turned into a real vampire. The outfits were incredible and we would walk around downtown New Orleans dressed as vampires and nobody would take a second look.

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