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Kelly Williamson, Memorial Hermann Professional Athlete


Tackle the Seemingly Impossible

Kelly Williamson WYIM

When professional triathlete Kelly Williamson, the 2014 Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas Triathlon Champion, steps up to the starting line for the 2016 Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas Triathlon, she will be confident that she has done everything possible to prepare herself to compete at her highest level.

She begins each race with a blend of excitement, adrenaline and calmness, knowing it is time to reap the benefits of her hard work.

"We're all nervous and afraid at the starting line, but there is solace in knowing you have the right tools and have done all you can do," she says.

Kelly could be described as a born competitor. Through the years she has learned that big results come with big goals. She started swimming and soccer at age 4 and by the age of 10 was devoted to swimming. Her commitment to the sport continued through high school and then the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where she focused on the 1650, 500 freestyle, 200 butterfly and 400 individual medley.

Kelly got her professional license in 2002 and went on to win the Pan American Championship in Brazil, where she was named the USAT Elite Rookie of the Year. She qualified for the 2002 World Championship Team (only six women qualify) and was a member of the USAT Resident National Triathlon Team from 2002-2004. She has celebrated 10 wins in half IRONMAN distances.

The IRONMAN Triathlon includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon run. Raced in that order, the events must be completed within 17 hours to earn the title of IRONMAN.

Challenge Yourself to Do Better

"My goal is always to stay healthy, enjoy myself and continue to push the limits of what my body is capable of doing."

Kelly has a laser-sharp intensity when training and competing. "Competing defines me in many ways and I find joy in accepting the challenge to be better," she explains.

A turning point came in 2010 when she started winning big races, with better and better results. For example, she won the 2014 Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas with a time of 8:54.42. In that race, she recorded her fastest run: 2:54.46.

"One thing I love about triathlons is their unpredictability due to the factors you can't control: weather, winds, water, road conditions and the actual course," she adds. "However, the one factor we can always control is how hard we are willing to dig within ourselves and how much we are willing to risk when we step up to the starting line.

She admits that training is "part of who I am and what I do, seven days a week, rain or shine." Her husband, Derick, is a nonstop supporter, cheering for her not only on race days but in between.

Kelly's philosophy also translates to her life away from the competition spotlight. "I have always believed that when you give your best on the days when it doesn’t come easily, you gain strength, both physical and mental. I think all of us are tempted to throw in the towel at times but we continue to plug away, always believing that I have better in me."

A Pro at Overcoming Challenges

"When dealing with setbacks I always ask myself "What CAN you do?" and I turned to walking."

During her 14-year career as a professional, she has had two serious medical issues. She sustained a compound double fracture of her left arm in a bike crash in May 2005 and did not get back on the road until January 2006.

She had three surgeries during this period. "I believe this was the best thing that could happen to me," she recalls. "I took time off, slowed down significantly and decided to take my racing in a different direction, doing nondrafting events and longer races. I came back with more passion and appreciation than ever."

In 2013 Kelly had endofibrosis of the eternal iliac artery, meaning an artery in her left leg had become "kinked" or diseased. She had surgery on her hip, and the whole process, plus the six-week recovery, drained her mentally, emotionally and physically. "When dealing with setbacks I always ask myself "What CAN you do?" and I turned to walking," she says.

She saw this healing time as an opportunity for more soul-searching. "I became more motivated than ever and when May rolled around I did not realize the performance of a lifetime was in my body. That is when I won Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas with a personal best time. The experience reminded me of how much we can use forced downtime to our advantage."

She is also committed to continually assessing her weaknesses and develops a plan to become stronger for each race season. That's when she turns to Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. "I have had body composition testing in the Bod Pod and they helped me develop a plan to optimize my nutrition, specifically around the timing of nutrition throughout the day, strength/conditioning and movement patterns in my body," she says.

Personal IRONMAN: Get the most out of myself

"What is important is to challenge yourself and set a little more difficult goal each step of the way. Little successes are important."

"While winning is confidence boosting and very validating, my personal IRONMAN is the quest to get the most out of myself and try to do what I'm not sure is possible," she says. "This goal doesn't necessarily mean winning first place. It is the culmination of countless hours of training. We put the work in, prepare our absolute best, and when we toe the line, we aim to put together that highly sought after perfect race."

Everyone's personal IRONMAN is different. "It can be a 5K or hitting any goal you set for yourself," she says. "What is important is to challenge yourself and set a little more difficult goal each step of the way. Little successes are important."

What is her advice to other triathletes, whether they are first-timers or seasoned competitors? "Enjoy the process and try not to get caught up in just the results. Let each disappointment raise you up and make you stronger. And don't forget to help others along the way."

A natural motivator, she enjoys being a role model and sharing her philosophy about how to face challenges and deal with the valleys in life. "It's what you do with your struggle that's important," she explains. "I encourage others to embark on a journey of self-discovery, and I love helping people uncover the power they have within."

She describes herself as resilient and courageous when it comes to being brave enough to accept failure. "Be proud that you can fall on your face and get up," she says. "I understand that more every time I compete."

Kelly, who just turned 38, counts herself very lucky. "I appreciate all of my sponsors for helping me have these opportunities and this life journey is a gift. Most of all, I appreciate the ability to get up each day and do this."

Humble in spirit, Kelly keeps her feet on the ground when it comes to perspective. "People will remember the kind of person you are, not your race time or the spot you finish in."

She is a huge cheerleader for anyone who aspires to find their own IRONMAN. "Turning dreams into reality and achieving something seemingly impossible is at the heart of the IRONMAN," she says.

Are you ready to step up to your own personal starting line and achieve your goals?