Redwood City's Crowley Beats Long Odds on Her Way to Paralympic Podium, White House

Born without functional use of her right elbow, Kelly Crowley has won medals in two Paralympics games and is a professional cyclist. Her Sept. 14 meeting with President Obama was her second White House visit.

Kelly Crowley was lounging in front of a TV at 3 a.m. when the inspiration to pursue elite international athletic competition hit her.

Twelve years later, she still hasn't recovered.

Crowley has since gone on to experience accomplishments she'd only dreamed of, injuries that tested her resolve, and two White House visits.

Crowley was fresh out of grad school trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life when a swimming pool she instantly recognized from the 2000 Sydney Olympics flashed across her television screen. When she heard a broadcaster's voice say "welcome back to our coverage of the 2000 Sydney Paralympic games," Crowley just knew.

"I was like, 'oh my God, this is what I've wanted to do my entire life,' " Crowley recalls of seeing the Paralympics broadcast.

"I didn't even know  (the Paralympics) existed."

The Paralympics are International Olympic Committee-sanctioned competitive events for disabled athletes. The Paralympics coincide with the summer games.

Crowley, a lifelong Peninsula resident who lives in Redwood City, was born without a functional right elbow (her upper and lower arm limbs fused) and three fingers.

Raised in a family of avid sports fans, Crowley competed on the swimming and basketball teams at Sacred Heart Prep. She'd always dreamed of competing at an elite level, but gave up sports to focus on her political science studies at  University of Santa Clara, where she graduated as a Valedictorian.

Within a few days of her 3 a.m. revelation, however, she reached out to a former youth coach to help get her going on a training program for a possible Paralympic bid.

"I just love being active and I've always been super-competitive," she said. 

Her competitive spirit propelled her to medal-winning performances in two sports.

Earlier this month she won two bronze medals in cycling at the London Paralympics. She won two gold medals in swimming at the 2004 Athens games.

Crowley won medals in the time trial and road race events in London. She was on Team USA's gold medal-winning 4x100-yard freestyle  and 4x100 medley (she swam the butterfly leg) relays.

Crowley admits being overwhelmed by nerves in her first Paralympics, something she attributes to immaturity. But she still had enough self-awareness to know that she was involved in something special.

"I remember when I was a kid daydreaming about what it must be like to be a professional athlete or one of the best athletes in the world, so to be able to stand on that podium with your teammates and say 'I'm the champion of the world' was a tremendous honor," Crowley said of her first Paralympics.

Crowley cited burnout among the biggest factors for switching from swimming to cycling. She was introduced to the sport by friends who lent her a bike. Within a few months, she was climbing hills faster than her male friends - some of whom were competitive cyclists.

She was on course to competing in the 2008 Beijing games after winning a world championship the previous year but she withdrew after two serious accidents - she was hit by a car in 2007 and suffered head injuries in early 2008 that left her with concussion symptoms for six months.

Less than a month before she went to London, Crowley suffered another serious injury, breaking her collarbone in a late July race in Oregon. She had a titanium plate surgically inserted into her bone.

British sensation Sarah Storey, whom Crowley described as a "phenomenal competitor," won both cycling events in London games.

"They love cycling in Great Brittan," Crowley said. "We had huge loud crowds for our races, which made it really fun. You don't get that ever" in the United States. "The Belladrum was like a rock concert. There was like a 130 decibels of noise.

"It was just crazy."

Crowley met with President Bush in 2004 and President Obama on Sept. 14 on White House on Team USA visits that followed both Paralympics. She appeared in a Getty Images photo sharing a laugh with President Obama that ran in the New York Times.

"That was the highlight," she said.  "That was almost better than the gold medal (ceremony)."

Crowley is married to an attorney/chef, Justin Lucke, who's also a competitive cyclist.

She competes on the pro cycling circuit for the Primal/Map My Ride Professional Women's Team.

Her  career highlights include establishing a new professional women’s record for the Cheyenne Canon Hill Climb Time Trial earlier this year in Colorado Springs, Colo. (her 17:11 time beat previous record-holder  Joanne Kiesanowski's time by 59 seconds).

Crowley juggles separate but related careers, coaching swimmers at Peninsula Covenant Aquatics in Redwood City and business professionals in her work as a motivational speaker.

For now, Crowley plans to keep racing professionally, but hasn't decided if she'll continue to pursue the 2016 Rio games. She wants to start a family soon and is considering future career options.

"I'm not sure what the future holds," she said.

In that sense, Crowley has come full circle, right back where she started some 12 years ago when she was sitting on her recliner at 3 a.m., trying to figure things out after completing a post graduate degree in public administration at Indiana University.

But it's the little things, like hearing the national anthem at a youth swimming meet when she's coaching at a Peninsula Covenant Aquatics meet, that reminds her of what's changed.

"Even when it's sung off-key by kids or played badly on the trumpet, it just kind of whisks you back to that moment when you get to stand up on that podium and your flag went up over the pool in the Paralympic games," she said.

But regardless of what Crowley's future brings, she remains committed to following a path that's already  taken her places she never thought she'd see.   

"I hope that I can inspire people to have faith in their dreams and never give up," Crowley said. "That was basically what I did."


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Karen Morss September 21, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Congratulations Kelly! You made your dream come true! And you will make the next one come true too. All the very best wishes for a wonderful next chapter! Karen


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