By Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public AffairsMarch 12, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (March 12, 2012) -- On International Women's Day, Capt. Mickey Kelly firmly positioned herself as an Olympic contender among women from 27 nations competing in the 2012 Modern Pentathlon World Cup Series.
Four months after having a baby, Kelly, 34, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, finished third in her qualification group March 8.
Along the way, she breast-fed Lillian Grace Brady between the fencing and swimming events before plunging into the pool to compete in the 200-meter freestyle.
"It's all come together really phenomenally," Kelly said. "It's just amazing that I've been able to continue training."
Being competitive with world-class athletes four months after giving birth is one thing, but breast-feeding during the five-sport event took Kelly's performance to an unprecedented level.
"Honestly, I did not expect that she could make the final because I know how hard it was for her," Team USA Modern Pentathlon coach Janucz Peciak said. "She had a long break and had a baby, so it was not so easy. I was very, very happy and surprised how well she performed in the semifinal. Many of the best pentathletes in the world did not make the final here, so she should be very, very happy."
Kelly said she could not have done it without the Army's support.
"If the Army didn't decide that they were going to keep me in WCAP and allow me to come back to training after I gave birth to my baby, I wouldn't be here right now, so I'm really fortunate," she said.
Kelly, an Olympic qualifier in 2008, was deployed to Iraq from February through December of 2009. She gave birth on Nov. 6, 2011.
"The Army gave me a chance and this is where I'm at," Kelly said. "I'm showing them that they took a chance on the right person. When I became pregnant, I told them that I thought I could still qualify for the London Olympics. I thought I had a good chance, barring any injury, to come back and make it happen."
"I wouldn't be here if they didn't keep me in the program," she said. "So when I train, I train hard. These coaches sometimes almost have to pull me out of the pool because I'm that tired."
WCAP Commander Capt. Jonathan Harmeling was supportive of the Army's decision to stick with its athlete.
"In most cases, being pregnant is not conducive to training for the Olympics or any elite type of athletics," he said. "However, Mickey Kelly is an impressive Soldier and an amazing athlete. We worked very closely with Mickey, her family, also with our medical doctors and the Modern Pentathlon staff.
"We spent hours in research as far as is there any way realistically she can go through pregnancy, have a baby, and within four or five months return to not only being competitive, but actually be on top of her game within months of the Olympics," Harmeling said. "There were some signs there and we wanted to give her a chance. She, by far, took advantage of it."
"I think she had something to prove," Harmeling added. "She looked us in the eye and said she could do it, and we said 'OK, we'll take you at your word and go get it done.' And she did. We're really excited for her and her family."
Kelly said she did all she could to remain in shape throughout her pregnancy.
"Swimming, I continued all the way until the due date," she said. "I wasn't swimming really hard intervals, but I was able to keep in the pool and could do flip-turns and all that sort of stuff -- just keeping in contact with the water and enough of the fitness. I couldn't run probably from the seventh month on."
Kelly began running the week after giving birth.
"As soon as I could train, we hit it hard," she said. "I can't do a lot of mileage or yardage, for that matter, but I can do really intense workouts, so that's what we focused on.
"As soon as I could, I had to start, or else it wasn't going to happen," Kelly said of her mission to make Team USA for the 2012 London Olympic Games. "My body was OK. I don't know if I would call it running the first week, it was more like shuffling, that's what I called it."
A couple months later, she was back on a horse.
"We do what's vital," Kelly said. "We do what we have to do in the training. And the rest of the time I have to rest."
Once she got on a roll in fencing at Charlotte, Kelly performed well throughout the remainder of the qualification round.
"I felt really good in fencing and I wasn't getting scores, wasn't getting touches, and I didn't really know why," she said. "I was like, 'I'm just going to stick to it. I'm not going to get frustrated. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing because I know it's going to be there.' Then it just started coming together, and I was intense, and I was there, and really definitely in the moment.
"Then it finally started coming together and I was scoring touches."
Kelly was in eighth place after fencing.
"But I had a good score," she said. "Anything over 800 points for me is going to put me in the mix with everyone, so 880 was right where I needed to be."
After spending some quality time with her daughter, Kelly passed the baby to father William Brady, another of Team USA's Olympic Modern Pentathlon hopefuls. She then swam the 200-meter freestyle in 2 minutes, 26.49 seconds.
"I expected to go a little faster because of the training, but it was OK," Kelly said. "It was better than I have swam since I came back from Iraq. I just haven't been able to connect in the pool, and now I'm connecting. Anytime you improve, you have to be happy with that."
"She has been improving exponentially," said Genadijus Sokolovas, a senior physiologist who works with athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Last week in practice, she was running and swimming basically our best times. But I have never heard of anyone breast feeding and competing at the same time."
Brady, too, was pleasantly surprised by Kelly's performance.
"Oh, my goodness, I'm so proud," he said. "She kicked some butt today. She had an amazing run. I don't know if you guys realize how fast she ran today, but it was insane. Passing the last four coming down the last stretch was crazy considering how much ground she had to make up."
Brady admitted that the idea of two pentathletes sharing parenting duties for a baby during a competitive weekend was different.
"It's crazy," he said. "We're crazy, I guess. Yeah, it's interesting, but we're just making it work. She has been training her butt off. Let's be frank: she's hard-headed and puts her nose to the grindstone and just goes for it."
In the combined event of laser pistol shooting and cross country running that begins with a staggered start, Kelly coasted across the finish line in third place with the fastest time of the day, looking as if she easily could have won the race.
"I was going easy because I'm going to need it Saturday," she said with a laugh. "I'm OK. This was really where I wanted to be. Everything came together the way I wanted it to.
"You have 'on days' and you have 'off days.' It was an 'on day,' so I can't be happier with the place, at all. And from the run, I'm not that tired."
Two days later, Kelly was fatigued and finished 31st as the lone U.S. competitor in the finals of the first of four 2012 Modern Pentathlon World Cup events, which pave the road to London for those who will compete in the Summer Olympic Games. A rough morning of fencing, the first event, knocked her out of contention.
"Really, I was just trying to make the final and definitely wasn't prepared mentally for the final, but I think that was OK," Kelly said, "except that I didn't reset to be like, 'You're here, that's it, time to be satisfied with whatever comes my way.' I'm a competitor, so it's tough not to be competitive. But I'm back. We're obviously moving in the right direction."
"I know her expectations were great after the semifinal, but she's not ready yet," Peciak said. "But she will be."
This was Kelly's first qualification for a Modern Pentathlon World Cup final since 2008. Despite a low energy level on Saturday, she managed to swim and run faster than in the qualification round on Thursday.
"Hopefully we will build on this and move forward," Kelly said. "I can only be happy."
She also is appreciative of the Army's support, along with that of her family. Her grandparents came from Florida and her mother, sister, aunt, uncle and a slew of nephews and nieces made the trip from upstate New York to watch Kelly compete in North Carolina.
"If the Army didn't decide that they were going to keep me in WCAP and allow me to come back to training after I gave birth to my baby, I wouldn't be here right now, so I'm really fortunate," Kelly said. "In any Olympic sport, its tough to find people to really support you, and the Army has really supported. Not just financially, but the Army has really stuck behind me when they didn't have to. I'm sure that they thought it through and they gave me a chance, and I'm glad that they did."
With her performance, Kelly secured a trip to Brazil for World Cup stop No. 2 this weekend in Rio de Janeiro. The third and fourth events in the series are scheduled for April 12-15 in Szazhalombatta, Hungary, and April 19-22 in Rostov, Russia.
Having sustained the strains of deployment followed by the emotional swings of pregnancy, Kelly could have crumbled.
"Or be really, really strong," she said. "Those things definitely are big stressors, you know? But I think that's what gave me the perspective of: 'Hey, while this is an amazing thing to do, it's not my whole life.' I was deployed. I did what I needed to do for the United States Army, and then I've come back and I have a baby. I have a little girl."
"While this is amazing and it's what I want to do and I want to do well, you put it in perspective a little bit better, and I think that's what allowed me to be really strong today."
Going forward, Kelly thinks being a new mom will be beneficial, at least from a psychological standpoint, during her quest to make Team USA for the 2012 Olympics.
"I qualified last quad; I didn't get to go -- so be it," Kelly said of earning an Olympic berth for the Beijing Games and being left behind as Team USA's alternate. "But I know that I can do that, so now it's just like if I make it, I make it. It's gravy. It's icing. It's all of those things."
"When you're trying to make the Olympics, it's such a big goal, it's so important, it's just so big. And when you realize it's not so big, you know?" Kelly said of her newfound perspective that came with motherhood. "People say: 'You are crazy; you're bringing her to competitions?' Yes, I'm bringing her to competitions. First of all, she's only 4 months old. And second of all, that's what I want to do. I want her to be there."
But breast-feeding between events?
"That requires energy, which at some point I'm going to have," Kelly said. "So then I'll have even more of an edge when I'm not doing that. Think about that? It's a little crazy, definitely unorthodox, but it's working."
"If I can balance all this and we can put this together and we continue to put this together, then there's nothing that can stop me. I feel really confident because I was right in the mix with everything and I haven't been training that long. As we move closer to the Olympics, it's only going to get better."