Megan Kelly never owned a passport; she never needed one.
The Middletown, Md., native was born and raised on a farm in Washington County.
She attended Towson University, became a National Strength and Conditioning Association All-American while a member of the track and field team and broke school records in the 400-meter relay and 400-meter hurdles.
After graduating in May, Kelly received an unexpected email from three-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, asking her to try out for an equally unexpected sport: bobsled.
"We thought it was spam," said Mike Jackson, Kelly's track coach at Towson. "People send you fake things all the time, so we didn't think it was real."
Once the initial shock wore off -- and they confirmed the email was indeed real -- Kelly's first thought was: "Why not?"
"When I got the email from Elana I was kind of surprised because I thought that bobsled was something people grow up doing ... like basketball, track or any other sport," Kelly said.
Instead, many athletes jump into the sport. The most notable example is Herschel Walker, who made the 1992 U.S. Olympic bobsled team while still an active NFL player. But the most common crossover is from track and field.
"Everyone wants track athletes for something other than track," Jackson said. "It's kind of funny and that's just how it started."
A whirlwind summer ensued as Kelly trained with Jackson to prepare for a combine with the U.S. national bobsled team in September. She performed well and was asked to remain in Lake Placid, N.Y., to continue training with the team.
Then came another surprise. In October, Kelly was announced as a member of the 2018-19 U.S. women's national bobsled team, one of six former track athletes named to the U.S. men's and women's teams. She'll get an opportunity to race in competitions around the world.
Photo Credit: Molly Choma
"I did not expect them to call my name whatsoever," Kelly said. "I was like, ‘Oh my god, they don't know I don't have a passport … this is my worst nightmare.'"
Thankfully, she was able to secure one and is now looking to fulfill one of her lifelong goals: representing the United States as an Olympic athlete -- even if it's in a sport she had never expected.
"It was always in the back of my mind -- how cool would it be if you kept doing this and you went to the Olympics? I always kind of envisioned it being for track," Kelly said. "I had only been training for bobsled for a couple weeks, but then they called my name. I'm just astonished that it happened this soon."
Jackson said he had wanted Kelly to keep pursuing track, but once she set her mind to making the bobsled team, there was no stopping her.
"People respect her work ethic and I think that's one of the reasons why she's on the USA team," Jackson said. "Those individuals saw the same thing that we saw at Towson."
Though many former track athletes jump into bobsledding, the transition isn't as smooth as one would think, Kelly said. Bobsled teams are comprised of either two or four athletes. In two-person teams, there is a pusher and a driver. As the pusher, Kelly is responsible for getting the 360-pound sled up to speed.
The relationship between pusher and driver is something that has motivated Kelly as she gets more comfortable in the sport.
"You have your part and you trust them to take care of their part and they have that sort of trust in you as well," Kelly said. "And that exchange and trust is really motivating."
For Kelly, the key is not to think, just push.
"You have a very short time to push the bobsled as fast as you can. It's way more explosive," she said. "I try not to think about what I'm doing."
The first time Kelly ever rode in a bobsled has been memorialized on her Instagram page. In the video, a clearly overwhelmed Kelly recounts her harrowing trip down the ice. "I thought I was gonna die," she gasps in the video. "This is where it ends."
"I would compare it to a wooden roller coaster that has a lot of steep curves, and you don't have a seat belt," Kelly said. "My initial reaction was, ‘Why do people do this?' But each time I go down the ice it gets better. I'm getting more comfortable."
Since that first ride, Kelly has only made a few more runs on ice, instead spending her time practicing on a concrete push track to perfect her technique.
Kelly wasn't able to participate in an early December World Cup competition in Sigulda, Latvia, due to a back injury, but she is aiming to be ready for competitions next year, including a North American Cup tour competition in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in January and World Cup race in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, in February.
The next Winter Olympics will be held in 2022 in Beijing, China. And while it's every U.S. athlete's goal to make the Olympic team, Kelly said, a lot can happen in four years.
"Anything can happen from now until then," Kelly said, "but I think everything we do is with that goal in the back of our mind."
Between now and the Olympics, Jackson said he and the Towson community will be supporting Kelly no matter where she goes or what happens.
"I want her to get it all," Jackson said, "I want her to go for the gold. That's the whole point -- she wouldn't do it if she weren't trying to get that. She's got a lot of people behind her."
As for traveling to cheer on Kelly in person, Jackson said he will be there. "I've got my passport ready and I'm ready to roll," he said.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Megan Kelly
Issue 250: December 2018 / January 2019