Pembroke -- Renfrew County’s newest Olympian, Madeleine (Maddy) Kelly, has been given a high honour by her hometown, Pembroke when she was presented with the Key to the City by Mayor Mike LeMay.
She accepted the honour in recognition of her achievements in athletics on Sunday during a ceremony at the Riverwalk Amphitheatre at the waterfront.
Mayor LeMay explained the tradition of presenting of a Key to the City can be traced back to medieval times, when cities were enclosed by walls and locked gates. It is now a symbol of the high esteem in which the recipient is held.
“Madeleine persevered through a vigorous training and qualification process through COVID-19 to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, representing her hometown of Pembroke on the world’s largest stage,” Mayor LeMay said.
He noted it wasn’t the first time she performed as an elite athlete.
“In 2019, she ran her way to the top of the country, claiming the women’s 800-metre national championship,” he said.
He noted her athletic passion and dedication have been evident to those in this community who have known her since her days running with Fellowes High School and the Coureurs de Bois, a Petawawa-based running club.
“Our entire community has been filled with a tremendous sense of pride in watching her compete at this summer’s Olympics,” he added.
Rick Schroeder, who coached Kelly in the Coureurs de Bois club, along with Pat Childerhose, who coached her at Fellowes High School, took to the podium to pay tribute to their protégé.
“Coaches always quote athletes,” he said. “Legendary wide receiver of San Francisco 49ers Jerry Rice once said ‘I do today what other people won’t, so tomorrow I can do what other people can’t.’ A saying that Maddy lives by every day.”
He recalled meeting Maddy at one of her first practices, as an exuberant young athlete with “very big hair.”
“Her uplifting, outgoing spirit helped to drive everyone young and old around her to greater heights,” he said.
She could rarely train with her cohort of her age but had to train with the older athletes, or the boys on occasion, because she was too fast, recalled Schroeder.
“This did not discourage her, it only gave her more confidence and she made even more friends,” he said. “She competed in track events, played soccer and even ran cross-country in the fall, a sport that a lot of track athletes can shy away from. This only made her more of a beast of an athlete.”
He noted that reaching the heights of a world’s elite athlete takes many qualities and factors: genetics, resilience to adversity, and profound amounts of physical and mental stress to overcome.
“Maddy’s love for her sport has made what some people may think of as ‘sacrifice’ actually a ‘choice’ for her -- a choice to do something she truly loves with people she loves to be around. Everywhere she goes everyone loves Maddy for her many qualities. Maddy makes going to practice feel like it’s a big social event; not a chore or workout. It was something we all looked forward to despite the heat, rain, wind or snow. That is the quality of a champion.”
He recalled during an out-of-town track meet asking a group of Grade 10 boys, not generally a group known for profound philosophical insights, “Why do we travel six hours, stay over two to three nights in hotels, and buy all these meals for you to do 11 seconds of running?”
One response surprised him.
“Coach, it’s not about the 12 seconds on the track. It’s about the weeks, the months, of training. It’s about the experiences we have gained.”
“I realized they all were getting it,” said Schroeder. “The leadership and examples athletes like Maddy Kelly, Melissa Bishop, Sue Cotten were rubbing off on the younger generation. They were inspiring and changing the culture.”
He admonished Kelly to remember “it’s always not about the two minutes on the track. It’s about the work, the hours, days, weeks, the months, the years. The heat, the rain and the cold you have endured. It’s about the people you have met, the friends you have made along the way and the experiences you have lived. It’s about your journey. Maddy, enjoy these moments and remember these people and friends for the next time you step on the track to race, train or go to work. It’s truly amazing that you have already accomplished what millions of people dream of. You are an Olympian!”
Childerhose began his tribute by recalling that, in 1992, after winning the gold medal in long jump, Carl Lewis said he is able to achieve great things because he has a lot of people in his corner.
“Not unlike Lewis, Maddy is a talented runner that is working extremely hard to achieve great things,” he said. “She deserves an enormous amount of credit for working toward her achievements but, I think Maddy would agree she has been wise enough to accept help along the way. Specifically I think of your parents driving to meets for support, Kathy Herault coaching at Fellowes and Rick coaching you in club and I’m sure many others.”
He said teacher/coaches know there are always students walking the halls who have talent whether they know it or not.
“Maddy obviously fits into the category of student athletes who had the talent and drive to excel at running,” he said. “So the goal for us is to foster the love of sport and facilitate their training needs. And when we have reached our limit of expertise, we should find more people and resources to help athletes like Maddy continue to improve.”
It was the love of the sport that motivated Maddy initially.
“Perhaps she started to run as a curiosity but entered competitive track because of a love of the sport of running,” he said. “That love allowed training on an uneven cinder track to become tolerable, blunt the hurt of making sacrifices to a social life from time to time, and reduced the pain of some ridiculously difficult workouts.”
He noted Kelly talks of meeting Melissa Bishop about 10 years ago and being inspired by her.
“Well, Maddy, guess who has joined Melissa as being an inspiration. Not only did you have old people like me arranging golf tee times to make sure to be home to watch the races, you very likely will compel some in the younger generation to take up running or a field event or just simply to be more dedicated to any sport they love. And I think I can safely say your journey provides motivation to all the teacher-coaches at Fellowes High School and beyond to continue to help student-athletes.”
“No doubt Maddy has talent, but more importantly a great work ethic and a great attitude. It’s not a stretch to think there are and will be many Pembroke youth just like her. I hope we can support them through any means: financially, facilities or simply fostering their love of a sport. Then, whether they become Olympians like Maddy or not, they too will have ‘a lot of people in their corner’.”
An Exemplar of Perseverance and Character
The athlete’s parents, Chris and Caroline Kelly, also stepped to the podium to speak to the qualities that had propelled their daughter to her current level of achievement.
Her father said that as Maddy’s parents they had hopefully guided her development, but they had also observed her as “an exemplar of perseverance and character, the foundations of a monument of caring.
“I hope others are inspired toward achievements by her work ethic, perseverance, and character,” he said.
Kelly finished fifth in the opening heat of the 800-metre race in Tokyo on July 30. Her time of 2.02.39 was not adequate to put her in the top three which was required for her to move on to the semi-final.
The oldest of three daughters of Chris and Caroline Kelly, Maddy began running recreationally when she was in her final elementary school years at Highview Public School. She continued running as a student in Fellowes High School. During Grade 8 she joined the Coureur de Bois running club and went to her first meet in Ottawa that summer, winning the 1500-metre race.
After graduation, she accepted a scholarship from the University of Toronto. After completing her five years at the university, she remained in Toronto and landed a job as a writer for Canadian Runner magazine, a position she still holds. She continues to train as a member of the U of T track club.
Kelly thanked the city for the honour and said that it is extremely meaningful to her to be recognized by her hometown.
“Even though I have not been a permanent resident of the city for a number of years, Pembroke still feels like home,” she said. “In the days before any large meet, I have always come home to spend time here.”
She added this did not always sit well with coaches anxious about breaks in her training.
She feels her early experience as an athlete growing up in a smaller community was a good foundation for her current achievements. She came to realize over time that there is more out there by way of training facilities that was available in her hometown.
“But when it’s all you know, you don’t miss what you don’t have,” she said. “I had all I needed as a teenager to nurture my love of running. At that point that’s all you need. You’ve got to love running. You don’t need all the bells and whistles. I am proud of my background and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In commenting later she said in some ways competing in the Olympics was “the easy part.”
“I knew I was healthy and in good shape,” said the 25-year-old. “Competing on the world stage was about as good as it could get. Yes, I had hoped to make it to the semi-finals, but getting there was the main goal.”
She is headed back to Toronto to resume training next week, preparing for her next goal of competing in the World Championships next July. She also hopes to participate in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader