Karen Kelly would be the first one to admit that she was not a bit athletic growing up in the Greenville section of Jersey City.
“Not at all,” Kelly said. “I wanted to be a cheerleader, but three times I went with all the cheerleaders to practice. And I didn’t make it. It was pretty traumatic for me. It was actually a life lesson. I wasn’t good enough.”
Kelly said that she doesn’t even remember a chance that she could have become an athlete.
“There was no thought at all,” Kelly said. “I didn’t like softball and I didn’t even know about track.”
Kelly graduated from St. Dominic Academy in 1979 and went up the block to St. Peter’s College.
“I remember being asked to be on an intramural volleyball team at St. Peter’s,” Kelly said. “And all I remember were hands coming right in front of me. It wasn’t for me.”
Finally, in 1989, after taking a job in the finance department of IBM, Kelly started to think about doing exercise.
“I figured exercise would keep the weight off,” Kelly said.
At the same time, Kelly went with friends to watch the Belmar 5, a popular 5-mile race down the Jersey Shore that is as much for socialization as it is for participation.
“I watched it and thought that exercise would be good for some stress relief,” Kelly said. “I thought I could do some intermediate running. I tried to run but I couldn’t breathe and had a pain in my side.”
But Kelly was determined. She set her sights on running the Belmar 5 the following year.
“I had no expectations of what I could do,” Kelly said. “I didn’t know anything about times.”
Kelly was asked if she has ever paid attention to her times.
“Well, yes and no,” Kelly said. “To be honest, I don’t love running. But I like the camaraderie of the race. I like being with same minded people. As the years moved on, where I finished didn’t matter. I just like the competition.”
Kelly joined the Jersey Shore Running Club, a group that meets and competes in several road races a year.
“I like competing against myself,” said Kelly, who recently retired after 33 years at IBM. “I know I did a race in Deal and then another in Keyport a few weeks later. By then, I just sort of caught the bug. I kept training and kept pushing myself. I got the feel of which races I liked.”
Kelly started out competing in five road races her first year, then gradually increased that number.
“I think in order to compete, you have to do training,” Kelly said. “That’s how I kept going.”
Kelly said that she competed in about 12 road races a year and just recently celebrated her 30th anniversary as a road racer.
The woman who was not one bit athletic growing up is now a veteran of 30 years of road racing. It’s quite remarkable.
“I guess I have probably about 200 bibs [race numbers] from over the years,” Kelly said. “I used to keep the bib and write down my time on it and where I placed. I’ve tried to record a log. A lot of what has happened is now on line.”
This past year, in a race of 10,000 runners, Kelly finished the Belmar 5 within the top 15 in her age bracket (55-to-60).
Now since retired, Kelly is now a fitness teacher, teaching exercise classes to senior citizens in the Monmouth Mall four classes a week.
There was also a benefit to running. A few years ago, Kelly met her future husband John O’Gorman at a road race.
“When we first met, we used to run together,” Kelly said.
Needless to say, Kelly has maintained that running bug for three decades.
““I never dreamed I would still be doing this 30 years later,” Kelly said. “I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to be still doing it. I haven’t had major injuries. I still have my health. It gets a little harder as I get older, but I’m still out there.”
For someone who remembers Karen vividly as that child, as a grammar school classmate at St. Paul’s (Greenville), growing up with no athletic skills, it’s absolutely remarkable that she’s still competing as an athlete a lot longer than many other people our age, including yours truly. For that, she deserves to be commended…
Speaking of St. Paul’s, a tragic incident took place involving Jordan Herron, who grew up in St. Paul’s Parish. Young Jordan was shot and killed recently. He was only 19 years old.
Jordan was the son of Tracey Tullock, a wonderful and vivacious young lady who I had the absolute pleasure to coach in basketball many moons ago. And when Tracey needed open heart surgery to save her young life when she was just a teenager, I organized a fundraiser for her at the Moose Lodge in Jersey City that featured appearances from Bobby Hurley, then a rookie for the Sacramento Kings, and none other than former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier.
That’s right, my friend, the late and incomparable Willie Wolfe, perhaps the most generous man I’ve ever known, knew that I was having the fundraiser for Tracey and wanted to help.
So Willie, the founding father of the Washington Park Little League and for whom the field where young Jaylene Joza swings for the fences in the Home Run Derby, brought me a garbage bag full of autographed memorabilia to raffle off, including a boxing glove that was signed by both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. I don’t want to even guess how much that glove would be worth now.
And Willie called me and told me he was bringing a special guest to the fundraiser. That special guest turned out to be “Smokin’ Joe” himself, who signed autographs, helped the cause by making a donation and was actually dancing with us. My highlight of the day was doing the “Electric Slide” with Smokin’ Joe!
Willie Wolfe is gone. So are Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
Now, that young lady who we helped to gain a surgery to help save her life some 25 years ago had to bury her teenage son. Something is not right with that picture.
My heart goes out to Tracey and to everyone involved with Jordan Herron’s family…
Former St. Peter’s Prep running back Jonathan Hilliman is still with the New York Giants as the team opened training camp last week. We will have more with Hilliman and his quest to make the Giants later this month.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com