Kelly Curtis: Inspiring change on, off track

Zach Brandwein, Staff Reporter

Kelly Curtis
Matthew Tate

Racial barriers across the sports world continue to be broken, and the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games saw another fall. Recently, American Kelly Curtis became the first Black skeleton athlete from the U.S. to compete in the Olympic Games.

Skeleton is a sledding sport with a single rider where an athlete lies down on their stomach with their head facing downhill. The rider who posts the quickest aggregate time over four runs along the track is the winner.

Curtis’ career highlights include two gold and three silver medals at the 2017-2018 Women’s Skeleton North American Cup, along with one bronze and silver medal at the 2014-2015 Women’s Bobsled North American Cup. She moved to the Intercontinental Cup in 2019, and won that as well. In 2021 she made her World Cup debut, and although she came in ninth, she was the highest-placed U.S. woman.

She was unable to top that performance until her last World Cup, where she finished sixth. This was the event which put her on the U.S. Olympic Team, although her goal was to compete in 2026. At the Olympics, she placed 21st overall, and her best Olympic performance this year was during the second heat, where she tied for 18th.

Curtis was born in New Jersey to a family of three siblings. Her father John was an NFL player in the 1970s, originally drafted by the New York Jets. By high school, Kelly excelled at basketball and track and field.

After high school, she first went to Tulane University, before transferring after two years to her fathers alma mater, Springfield College. While at Tulane, she competed in multiple events, but her best performance came during the Sykes Sabock Challenge Cup in 2010. Curtis put on a show in the indoor pentathlon. She placed fourth in the 60-meter hurdles, high jump and long jump and placed second in shot put. However, a 10th placed finish in the 800-meter dash had Curtis finishing the whole pentathlon in sixth.

Nowadays, Curtis is a soldier athlete. She joined the World Class Athlete Program, which is a unit of the U.S. Army that allows active soldiers to train and represent the U.S. in Olympic and Paralympic events. Curtis joined the Air Force branch, where she completed basic training in July 2020.

Curtis is trying to use her platform to inspire change. She said that her goal is to build a financial support system for skeleton athletes to make their lives easier and inspire more people to try the sport. Curtis is also hoping for more diversity in the program. Curtis knows that she “definitely won’t be the last” Black athlete on the U.S. skeleton Olympic team.