Kelsey Campbell USA
Kelsey Campbell Is an Olympian and International Wrestler who represents the USA and competes in the U55kg division. During her time at University, she became the first female to wrestle competitively and only the 12th in history to wrestle for a D1 college team. In her first International Open (The Sunkist International) Kelsey finished 5th beating a number of experienced athletes, including the 5th placed finisher from the 2004 Olympic Trials. In 2008 she won College Nationals and again in 2009 before winning the US Open later that year and making the first of many National Teams. Over the next two years, Kelsey fought tooth and nail to make two world teams before reaching one of the high points in her career so far by winning the US Olympic trials and qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London, England.
Kelsey told us she grew up in a challenging environment and that her parents separated when she was just 6, Kelsey said the Family never had a lot of money and that she learned very early to hide things she was ashamed of, including being poor. In describing in some detail her upbringing Kelsey said “After my parents split, my brother, mother and I moved to be closer to my Grandparents. We lived in a small apartment but the community I lived in and the people I was surrounded by, lived in big houses and didn’t come from broken families. At least it seemed that way when I was younger. My mom struggled a lot with mental health and I truly just thought the dysfunction I experienced in my home was ‘crazy’, and worked extremely hard to not only separate myself from it, but to be completely opposite of it. Kelsey also explained that at that time, there was a lot of stigma around Mental health and ultimately many of the related issues to that, resulted in a lot of negative symptoms that she still deals with to this day.
When asked how she got started in Wresting Kelsey told us in her own words “My road to becoming a wrestler was completely off the grid. I was a multi-sport athlete and was dared by a couple of wrestlers to try out the following year. I was only trying to last a couple of weeks when I first started. But as that first and very life-changing season progressed, so did my goals. At first it was to last a practice. Then it was to not get pinned in a match. Then it was to compete against girls-my peers. Then it was to win against them.
Kelsey then went on to tell us about her very first practice and how after making sure she was the first to arrive, to avoid having to make an entrance, she had her first introduction to her Coach ‘Robert Lippi’, who we can only assume wasn’t expecting a girl to show up on that very first day. It was something Kelsey said she’d never forget as she told us “He came out of his office and looked at me. Saying nothing, he walked back into one of the offices, and returned with a bucket and mop. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something along the lines of me being the team manager and cleaning the mats. He disappeared again and I was left staring at the cleaning supplies. This was my out and I would have been justified, had I taken it but kids like me don’t look for outs in sports or hobbies, we look for outs from our home life. If I needed an out, it wouldn’t be from wrestling, it would be to it. I gently replaced the items against the wall and took my place against a different wall.”
Kelsey recalls that once everyone else arrived she got involved in practice with the rest of the boys and despite being new to it all, adapted quickly and learnt fast and It wasn’t long before she was competing at a good level and making progress. Coach Lippi obviously saw something special in Kelsey from that initial meeting and after having her involved in a couple of B-team/ Junior Varsity matches, he took her as the number 2 to a Varsity tournament. In doing so he probably chose to sacrifice team points to give her the opportunity, while at the end of the season he was the first to be right behind her in encouraging her to compete in a girl’s tournament just a few weeks later. Looking back Kelsey knows that it was those experiences that played a big part in bringing her to where she is today. Where she is today has taken her from competing in her first year as a Senior woman in the open age category and having to compete against some of the very best, to breaking into the 2012 Olympic team and achieving all the amazing feats that we heard about in her introduction earlier.
Kelsey said that as a child, outside of wrestling there were so many other challenges she had to deal with as she told us “Having a parent that is bi-polar and struggling with depression as well as having my own battles made just existing challenging. As a teen, I struggled with depression, I struggled with eating disorders on multiple occasions throughout high school and was even suicidal.” In Kelsey’s junior year of high school she left home and lived with 5-6 of her friend’s families. Kelsey told us that not only did she have to deal with a verbally abusive sibling but that because the negative aspects of her Mothers bi polar symptoms were often not seen by others that she was “repeatedly misunderstood, accused and blown off.” People often told her she needed to simply be more respectful and return to what they assumed was a problem free and ‘loving home’. It’s something Kelsey said she finds easier to talk about now and also has an understanding now that has given her the ability to totally forgive her mother.
We asked how Kelsey had found her faith in God and how it had helped her. She told us she had won a scholarship to a Christian sports camp, mainly because of her wrestling, even though at that point her faith wasn’t that strong. She also went to Youth group in high school, but mostly because it was another activity to keep her away from home. She told us “At this camp I was convicted and moved in a way that ultimately guided me on a powerful path towards faith. Throughout middle school and high school there was another talented athlete that had always looked up to me, I’ll say, even idolized me in some ways. We were friends because we both ran track and she was constantly inviting me to church, which I was constantly turning down. But coming home, with only a couple weeks until I had nowhere to live, she and her family were the only ones to take me in. I began to attend church with them and my life was thoroughly transformed by the scripture (The Bible). I could clearly see how God had to strip me of all the ‘things’ in my life that I had bandaged my heart with and rely on Him. I would go on to deeply study scripture, get baptized, and make influencing others through scripture the main agenda in my life. I ended up moving to Arizona to help start a new church and serve in the college ministry.
When we asked Kelsey what she wanted you to learn most from her story she said. “I think the main lesson is that there is always a way out. I think back to some impossible scenarios in my life. No money, no home, no friends really. My back was against the wall numerous times. But I always knew if there was a way, I could find it. If you have any reason to cling to hope, anything in the back of your mind telling you there’s a shot, then SHOOT YOUR SHOT. God gives me a lot of credit here on earth but honestly, some of my darkest times in which I had to overcome were before I really knew Him. But we all have a gut feeling. We all have will. The world constantly throws reasons at us to take an easier path. Don’t. Go with your gut.”
At the end of her amazing story and introduction to you all, we asked Kelsey what her final message would be for you and this is what she said “Believe in whatever is in you. I remember being young- maybe 5 or 6- and I was extremely aware that things in my childhood were not normal or perfect or healthy. I didn’t share all of it but my point is that I knew, even then. I also knew I was strong and driven and I was crazy enough to believe I would rise above it all. And maybe it is crazy. Maybe some of you are in an impossible situation and thinking I don’t have a clue what you are about or experiencing. All I can say is that if that’s the case, you must be a lot stronger than I am. You must have a bigger destiny than me. Maybe the Olympics is too small for what you have in your future. Be crazy. Be strong. Whatever is in your heart, whatever makes you, You are supposed to be there. No matter what, cling to that. Even if you can’t show it, keep it in you.” Kelsey finished by reminding all of us that God tells all his children through the Bible that he has an incredible plan for them, and that he has amazing things in store for you – that even if you were told about them you wouldn’t believe. She said “Sometimes you just have to believe and that is your only option. I promise, at first, faith is enough.”
Kelsey told us her next tournament is in April 2019 at the PanAmerican Championships in Argentina and then a week later she’ll compete at the US Open. She said “I am training and competing to win the Gold medal in the 2020 Olympics. I have a lot to overcome-it seems daunting at times. I am working to just focus on the moment and stay my course.” We certainly hope she’ll be joining so many others from the Fight for the fatherless Family in Tokyo and will be hoping for the best for her over the next couple of years.