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Christina “Kiki” Kelley named Team Leader for 2013 U.S. Greco-Roman World Team

Christina “Kiki” Kelley of Minneapolis, Minn. has been named as the Team Leader for the 2013 U.S. Greco-Roman World Team by USA Wrestling, the national governing body for the sport in the United States.

Kelley will serve as Team Leader at the 2013 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and will be on the Greco-Roman Team USA leadership staff throughout the four-year Olympic cycle.

“We are proud and excited to have Kiki Kelley as our Greco-Roman Team Leader during the next Olympic cycle,” said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender. “Her commitment to our Greco-Roman program has made a big difference in recent years, and we know that her leadership will improve our team as it prepares for success at the 2016 Olympic Games.”

In recent years, Kelley has been a strong supporter of the U.S. Greco-Roman program in a number of ways. She was the sponsor of a top international Greco-Roman dual meet event, the Kiki Cup, which was held in Colorado Springs, Colo. for three years. In 2013, Kelley was instrumental in renaming the event the Jack Pinto Cup, in loving memory of the six-year-old wrestler who was tragically killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012.

Kelley has also sponsored a number of other initiatives for Greco-Roman Team USA, which have provided additional training and competition opportunity for American athletes and helped the program in many ways.

“Kiki Kelley has been such a great Greco supporter over the last few years. She has helped us tremendously with a variety of efforts, including the former Kiki Cup, the current Jack Pinto Cup and numerous other international training efforts. She loves this sport and cares so much for the athletes and the program. I so look forward to working with her over the next few years regarding our Greco-Roman training and preparation, as we peak for the Olympic Games in Rio,” said National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser.

At first glance, Christina (Kiki) Kelley's involvement with USA Wrestling isn't at all obvious. However, her life story shows the kind of courage and commitment which is displayed on a daily basis by the Greco-Roman wrestlers who she is now devoted to helping reach their Olympic goals.

"It makes perfect sense to me," she laughs. "Wrestling, to me, is about overcoming obstacles, showing grit and determination, taking risks while strategizing the next move using every possible advantage you've got. It's what I've done most of my life."

The forty-two year old mother of Madeleine, age eight, has been Director of KiMa Private Foundation since 2010, which provides grants and funding to such diverse organizations as a secondary school in Tanzania, an urban gardening and public policy program, various endowed scholarships,inner city youth camping, and USA Wrestling.

"KiMa was founded to address gaps in the system not obvious at first glance. As a college student who nearly fell through the cracks myself, it's a big theme for me," she says.

Having battled with severe ulcerative colitis since 1991, the former Carleton College rugby and field hockey player found herself at the hospital more and more often, and were it not for a professor who drove her to x-rays and appointments, and a college dean who advocated for her, she'd never have graduated with honors in 1993, only to collapse on a beach a few short weeks later. Instead of starting her first job, she had a complete colectomy and contracted a septic blood fungus that nearly killed her.

"I was given a 2% chance to live -- not the greatest odds," she says, "but I'm stubborn. I'd gotten into Teach for America, an AmeriCorps program, and I wasn't going to miss that."

From 1994-1997, Kelley taught secondary English in a notoriously tough North Carolina school, raising her 0-21% students' scores by 150%. Her teaching experience is detailed in the 2003 book by Molly Ness, Lessons to Learn: Voices from the Teach for America Front Lines.

“I had zero fear, because I'd already faced death and losing everything but the literal shirt off my back -- a couple thugs weren't going to deter me. Turned out a lot of my students were natural grapplers whose will to succeed just hadn't been ignited yet." After a stabbing in the English building, she returned home to Minnesota, to the relief of her parents.

She quickly learned that to get a job as an English major, she'd need more education, but didn't have the money to go to graduate school. So she worked at the Mayo Clinic as a desk assistant, teaching herself HTML in her spare time, writing brochures for the Urology department, and teaching physicians how to use email. That determination landed her a tech writing job at IBM in 1998, which led to an MA in Technical and Professional Communication in 2000, and a move to IBM Silicon Valley Labs in San Jose, Calif.

"I finished my master's program in a year with a 4.0 GPA while teaching classes in writing, rhetoric, and business English, interning with the Dean of Students, and revamping and training staff to maintain the college's website. Quite the year, but like all tough years, it taught me to never quit."

After a successful run at IBM as a webmaster/tech writer/editor, and helping to overhaul the entire IBM documentation system, she moved to Google in Mountain View, Calif.

"I started as their first editor, writing anything that needed writing, including legal, financial, technical, educational, and exculpatory documentation. That quickly turned into a senior editor position since I'd helped grow the writing team and build the documentation system. Never would I have imagined being at IBM during Y2K and Google when it took off. It's been quite the ride."

Then along came her daughter, named for Madeleine Albright, whom Kelley heard speak at Google while pregnant. "I'd been told very clearly and many times that I'd never be able to have children. Once that theory was proven wrong, I figured I should reassess anything I'd been told I couldn't do, from running 5Ks to trekking in Africa. Two completed bucket lists later, I'm still working on checking off items." That includes starting a doctoral program in psychology and increasing her involvement in the Greco-Roman world.

So it is a surprise and yet not a surprise that Kelley would find herself taking on the Greco-Roman Team Leader position.

"Aside from my miracle child, this has got to be the best surprise of my life. The Olympics have been a beacon to me, inspiring me to keep on keeping on, even when it seems hopeless. When I had the good fortune of meeting Dave Surofchek, a former Greco-Roman Olympic athlete, and finding out that the Kit Carson Cup needed a sponsor, I jumped at the chance to be involved, especially since my dad, brother, and boyfriend were all wrestlers."

After three years, the Kiki Cup, an international Greco-Roman wrestling tournament that kicks off the year at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was renamed in honor of Jack Pinto, an avid wrestler and student at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

"It's been a tough time for the country. And for Olympic wrestling. But we can choose to keep wrestling with life's terrible trials and make something good come out of it. We must, for those who cannot," said Kelley.
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