Power to the She in Me

Kelley Heye San FranciscoBack in October I received a message suggesting that I apply for a local athletic wear sponsorship program. The message mentioned that… “This would be perfect for you. Every year we have one sponsored athlete who inspires our business and our customers. As a Sponsored Athlete, you would be our store’s spokesperson, the person who embodies our spirit and leads an active, healthy lifestyle. Applications are due by the end of the week.”

I’d known about the program but never thought in a million years that I had a chance. So, like we all do way too often… I blew it off. That is, until I received the above message. At that point I figured it was a “sign” and had no choice but to launch into hyper-mode.

Magically, with the support of my wing-woman I managed to pull together a meaty presentation that included a ten question application. The first question was, “Tell us your story…”

Yikes, I thought. When you’ve been around as long as I have your story tends to be kind of long. This might take a while… but it has a good ending.

The Story of Kelley

Tell us your story. How did your athletic journey begin, and how has it evolved? What athletic and life events have shaped who you are as a person? What inspires your commitment to your sport?

On June 1st, 1997, I completed my first 100-mile bike ride. At the time I weighed nearly 220 pounds. I signed up for the event with The Leukemia Society’s Team in Training program because my friend Michelle was convinced “we’d lose tons of weight and meet hot guys.”

Unfortunately, all the “hot guys” rode much faster and saw us as nothing more than something to navigate around. And, since Michelle and I lived on a diet of French fries and red wine, neither of us lost more than a few pounds. In the end, we both managed to survive the event. Michelle was simply happy to be finished, but for me this is where my story truly begins.

After that first century ride, I was hooked on cycling. I learned that you didn’t have to be a skinny-minny to ride a bike well. In the years that followed, I went on to coach cyclists for TNT and was later appointed Assistant Head Coach for the NorCal TNT program. It was coaching for TNT that gave me the opportunity to witness just how unbelievably inspiring it is to watch an unlikely athlete — a regular, everyday person — reach their goal. Most everyone I worked with struggled to ride a bicycle up the smallest hill at first, often so frustrated they were brought to tears. It was heart breaking. For me, it was seeing the excitement and pride on those participants’ faces as they crossed the finish line that often brought tears to my eyes.

In 2002, I was talked into trying bike racing. At 42 years old and 163 pounds, I entered my very first race. Older and at least 40 pounds heavier than anyone else in the field, miraculously I managed to win the race. Frankly, I was shocked as the race was a hill climb from Stinson Beach up to the top of Mt. Tam. I, the heavy girl with the big legs, won an uphill bike race. Astonishing! After that race, I raced my bicycle for various local teams until finally starting my own team. I officially retired as an “elite” cyclist in 2006. After that first race, I went on to take first place in just one other event, although I enjoyed years of successful top ten finishes.

Kelley Heye San Francisco

These events have led me to where I am today. I’ve seen for myself that you really can do anything you set your mind to, no matter who you are or what you look like. Today, my life is dedicated to encouraging the unlikely athlete to step outside of her comfort zone and go for it.

Personally, I am not currently committed to any one sport. I love to run, ride, practice yoga and taking the occasional swim in freezing Aquatic Park. My commitment is to being the best I can be at whatever sport I am participating in on any given moment. My inspiration comes from my current clients and the memory of those TNT days. I am inspired by everyone I’ve helped, seeing the joy in their eyes when they discover that they really can do anything.

Along with the featured athletes you've been hearing from on the Chi Blog, each Athleta store sponsors a local athlete. Since her 20s, KELLEY HEYE, Athleta's San Francisco store athlete, spent most of her professional career as a cranky advertising executive who weighed up to 220 pounds. In her 30s and 40s she managed to drop a large amount of weight, keep it off, become an elite bicycle racer, certified cycling coach, artisan cheese maker and fitness fanatic. You can subscribe to her blog and connect with her on Facebook, and Twitter. Learn more about Kelley and connect with her through our San Francisco store »

Comments

  1. Kelly,

    First off – good for you! I too felt that I “had a snowballs chance in h___” to become a sponsored athlete.

    Secondly, I had to laugh when I read about your racing career! One of my good friends and training buddies has always been able to kick my butt on hills when we cycle together despite the fact that she has always outweighed me by over twenty-five pounds and could, until about a year ago, race in the Athena category at tris. She has a sweet tri bike that I can always hear coming as I huff and puff up hills. As I continue to huff and puff, she always cruises past me, smiling at our inside joke.

    Be safe out there and keep inspiring others!

    Cheers, Gen =)

    Like: Thumb up 5

  2. Melanie Bowen says:

    Hello,

    I have a question about your blog, could you please email me? Thanks!!

    Melanie

    Like: Thumb up 0

  3. Heidi says:

    Very inspiring story. Thank you.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  4. kelley says:

    First let me say how in awe I am, of the many women who live to inspire other women. We hear so much about how to tear others down which is perpetuated through mass media, social media, and public settings. I have three daughters, one of which is a teenager. She has battled her weight for the past five years. She is a beautiful girl with more self-confidence than 90% of most women let alone teenage girls. She always smiles, she makes it her quest that no one around her is ever upset, she is the first person to say “I’m sorry” if she inadvertently hurts another’s feelings. She never judges anyone ever. She will befriend anyone regardless of any difference they may have. However, as she enters high school this year, I worry that her weight will become an issue. She plays every sport available to her, softball, basketball (her favorite), volleyball, she swims, but we live on a military installation outside of the country and she is limited by what can be provided. We walk/hike as a family activity and she enjoys that. I let her read Kelley’s story as well as a few others and it really hit home with her. I think she needed to “hear” it from someone other than mom, that you can achieve your goals. That there was no magical pill or cure, that pure determination and finding that one thing that makes you feel good is the key. Reading Kelley’s story, she didn’t focus on losing weight, it isn’t what drove her, it was the thrill of watching other women achieve their goals. So thank you Kelley and Athleta for what you are doing. Building women up to be stronger, self confident, and sharing stories of beautiful women who are making a positive difference.

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  5. Nancy says:

    Very inspiring…I’ve heard you can do it if you put your mind to it…but I always picture that perfect person in my mind, the one who has never had a poor self-image, always a great athlete who doesn’t find it difficult to lift 30 pound kettle bells, or someone who makes it look easy…but now realize that anyone can really do what they set their mind to–even most of us average athletes!

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