Spartan racer Kelsey Childs from Westchester, New York has had to endure a lot more than just rough terrain.
As a 10-year old, Childs was a quiet individual which caused her to get picked on. From elementary all the way up through high school, she was bullied excessively.
“The main thing was that I was different,” Childs said. “I was the weird hyperactive kid that dressed strangely, listened to different music, would rather read then watch tv, would rather play video games then do all the girly stuff so that made me an easy target.”
There was a certain individual who made her life a living nightmare in the hallways.
“One girl made it her mission to make my life miserable,” Childs said. “I was out sick for two days and she would have kids run away from me wherever I went and screamed ‘she’s sick, she’s sick, she’s contagious, don’t touch her, don’t go near her’ just mean little things like that and when you’re 10 and 11 years old, that stuff really sits with you.”
Looking for a calling, her sister asked her about them doing martial arts together.
“I was having a hard time socially in school and just kept bouncing around school to school due to bullying,” Childs said. “My sister was like ‘Hey let’s try martial arts.'”
Childs gravitated towards it immediately. On some days, she would spend up to six hours a day doing karate.
After a year of training, Childs was ready to move up to a whole other level, but hit another roadblock.
“I moved into actually fighting, doing MMA, and muay thai,” Childs said. “But I stopped because I was going through a really tough time.”
In her quest, her journey has inspired thousands. With over 18 thousand followers on her Instagram account, she was blindsided by how many have gravitated toward her workouts and motivational posts.
“It took me by surprise because it kind of just started building and building and building,” Childs said. “I’ve had a lot of people send me messages like ‘I’m going through a hard time, I was so depressed and then you posted this, this, and that and I just realized what I needed to do.'”
Childs put the breaks on combat sports and started weightlifting and running. Ultimately she bumped into Spartan racing and has never looked back since.
She exclusively posts photos of her Spartan training and course ventures as a way to link it metaphorically to the day to day struggles her followers might be going through.
“I stopped training MMA two years ago because I’m the type of person that needs to focus on one goal at a time,” Childs said. “I’m trying to get a message across on my page and I feel like Spartan can be used as a comparison and a lot of these pictures can be related back to the message and inspiration [that] I’m trying to get across.”
Childs still goes through struggles, including with mental health. She suffers from post traumatic stress disorder from previous experiences, anxiety, and depression.
“I didn’t go to school, I didn’t take care of myself, I really really hated myself and it showed,” Childs said. “It took me four years to really get through that and it was an uphill battle the entire time and I always say ‘I’m 20-years old but I feel like I’ve lived 50 years with everything I’ve been through and experienced, the lessons I’ve learned.'”
Spartan races and the training itself have helped put all of her struggles on the back burner as feeling herself getting stronger is the only drug she needs.
“Just watching everything you’ve worked so hard for just really unfold, it happens right before your your eyes,” Childs said. “It’s a spectacular feeling, it’s the training too, I’m watching my mile time get faster, faster and faster and it’s the thing where it’s like ‘Wow, I’m really doing this, I did all of this hard work and it’s really paying off.”‘
Through her time training, she has met fellow athletes with the same goals and aspirations. Though they compete against each other, Childs says the group is as close knit as it can be.
“We really, really are [a family], I’ve met some of the greatest people through Spartan,” Childs said. “The realist, rawest people. One of my best friends I met through Spartan and she’s 10-years older than me, I just have never felt more love from a friendship.”
Fellow racer and close friend Kera Pezzuti, trains with her constantly and see’s Childs’ drive through the way she pushes to do more.
“Training with her is annoying. She’s never done. when I’m tapped out, she always asks ‘what’s next?”‘ Pezzuti said. “Because of that, she certainly pushes me to be my best. Once, after a 15-mile run, she somehow convinced me to go to the gym for two hours and do strength and circuit work. Her level of dedication to the sport is unparalleled.”
Childs’ motivation and willpower comes from the stories she delves into. She’s an avid reader who loves superheroes, mainly the X-Men. She was nicknamed Storm, inspired by the white-haired heroine of the group that can manipulate the weather.
“I am a total and utter nerd,” Childs said. “I love comic books and a family friend started calling me Storm when I dyed my hair silver, I love the X-Men they are some of my favorite superheroes.”
Childs knows she doesn’t have superpowers, but she has inspired friends through coping with her struggles as well as with commitment and unconditional support to them.
“People are drawn to Kelsey because of her honesty. She’s a very direct girl, which is why I think she’s such a good friends,” Pezzuti said. “She’s honest with her path and her struggles with mental health and uses that honesty and story telling to advocate and help others.
“She never shies away from a question or from a battle. If you wrong Kelsey, she’ll let you know. Her struggles have turned her into the strong woman she is today and I think that people really respect that. People look to her for support.”
It hasn’t been just her friends, but also some of her greatest enemies. Recently, one of Childs’ biggest school bullies reached out.
“I approach every situation past, future, present with empathy,” Childs said. “I did have a girl who bullied me ruthlessly in high school reach out to me and she basically told me ‘I’m her fitness role model and that it’s inspiring for her to see my page’ just a really long paragraph that actually had me in tears.”
With all of the messages everyday that she gets, she has one word to describe how it feels to change or possibly save someone’s life. That’s “honored.”
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